What Are Hydrofluorocarbons?

HFCs: Super Greenhouse Gases 

HFCs or hydrofluorocarbons, are super greenhouse gases because with a global warming potential hundreds to thousands of times more potent than CO2. HFCs are also short-lived climate pollutants with atmospheric lifetimes between 15 and 29 years. Fast action to prevent HFC emissions will have an almost immediate impact on reducing atmospheric warming, making it vital to avoiding the catastrophic climate tipping points likely to occur if we exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Unlike most other greenhouse gasses, HFCs are not waste products but are intentionally produced synthetic molecules. HFCs are manufactured mainly for use as refrigerants in refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps. They are also used in foams, aerosols, fire protection and solvents. They were developed as alternatives to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), previous generations of synthetic gases that are being phased-out under the Montreal Protocol due to their ozone depletion. With their introduction to replace ozone depleting substances and the growing demand for cooling, HFC use and emissions have grown rapidly over the past several decades making them among the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. 

In 2019, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol came into effect to begin phasing down  HFCs globally by 85% in 2050.  If successfully implemented and enforced, the global HFC phasedown is expected to avoid up to 0.5°C warming by the end of the century. Up to an additional 100 Gigatons CO2e can be prevented by accelerating the phasedown and implementing lifecycle refrigerant management that prevents emissions of existing gases by reducing leaks and ensuring proper reuse and disposal.

Reducing HFCs with the world’s most successful environmental treaty from CIFF on Vimeo.

We Do Not Have to Use Climate-Destroying Gases

HFC-free technologies are widely available for many HFC uses, and more are coming on-line every year so that most uses could be phased-out  by 2030. Some of the currently available climate-friendly alternatives include hydrocarbons (such as R-600a and R-290), ammonia (R-717), water and carbon dioxide (CO2 or R-744). Other not-in-kind alternatives, such as solar cooling and magnetic refrigeration, are also likely to be commercialized and enter the market in the next few years. These alternatives all have ultra-low global warming potentials with close to no impact on climate. HFC-free technologies can also provide significant energy efficiency improvements to minimize the overall climate impact of the cooling sectors.

For more information on available HFC-free technologies, visit cooltechnologies.org