Call it preaching to the choir, but refrigerant manufacturers in the United States are continuing to sing the praises of HFCs to those within the industry, even as elements in Europe push for the end of these refrigerants because of global warming concerns.

One of the most recent efforts focused directly on the Global Warming Potential (GWP) by claiming that the global warming contribution of HFCs is not nearly as significant as is being claimed by those advocating a phaseout of HFCs.

“HFCs may contribute only two to four percent of total carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, even under a worst-case” scenario, according to Mack McFarland, who is a principal scientist for Environmental Programs for DuPont Fluoroproducts. His comments were made at a Media Roundtable hosted by the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI).

He cited an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that had issued a Special Report on Emission Scenario (SRES). Even with “no specific regulatory intervention on HFCs to address climate change, the results show that the fractional contribution to HFCs to total greenhouse gas emissions limited to achieve no more than a doubling of preindustrial concentrations would be in the range of 2.2 to 4.1 percent in the year 2050 on a carbon dioxide-equivalent basis.

“This result represents a correction to an earlier environmental report by an environmental organization, in which the fractional contributions were reported to be 267 percent larger.”

He further advocated that with various “responsible-use principles” for HFCs already in place as the result of an accord among such organizations as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the United Nations Environment Program, and the Alliance for Atmospheric Policy, HFC emissions “would be less than those reported in the IPCC SRES series.”

The Necessity

One reason the industry is forming statistical ammunition to withstand calls for a ban is because of the many uses for HFC-based products.

“HFCs are used in important applications in both developed and developing countries,” McFarland stated, “including metered-dose inhalers, foam insulation, refrigeration, air conditioning, technical aerosol products, solvents, and fire extinguishants.”

Further, he noted that “HFCs are necessary for an orderly phaseout of ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol. They [HFCs] are low in toxicity, cost effective, safe to use, and in many applications provide high energy efficiency.”

McFarland noted that “HFCs are included in a basket of greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol.” The significance of that statement is that the industry wants any consideration of HFCs to be lumped in with six other gases (such as methane) in that “basket.”

However, some elements in Europe, including a number of governmental bodies and environmental groups, have pulled HFCs out of that basket and targeted them specifically.

Responsible Use

“The partnership of government, international organizations, and HFC-producing and -using industries, has resolved to apply worldwide response use principles,” McFarland said.

Among those principles:

  • Select HFCs for applications where they provide health and safety, environmental, technical, economic, or unique societal benefits.

  • Minimize HFC emissions to the lowest practical level during manufacture of the chemical, as well as during the use and disposal of equipment using cost-effective technology.

  • Design and operate HFC-producing plants with the goal of achieving zero HFC emissions.

  • Engineer, operate, and maintain HFC-using systems to minimize emissions and maximize energy efficiency.

  • Recover, recycle, reclaim, and/or destroy used HFCs where technically and economically feasible.

  • Promote comprehensive technician training in HFC handling to ensure compliance with regulations and stewardship practices.

  • Meet standards governing HFC equipment installation and maintenance, and HFC transportation and storage; exceed standards when appropriate.

  • Accurately report HFC production and promote models that accurately estimate emissions.

  • Consider alternatives that are technically, environmentally, and economically feasible.

    Publication date: 08/04/2003