Use of climate-forcing F-gases underlines need for innovation

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News Published 02 Oct 2013 Last modified 13 Jan 2017
3 min read
Photo: © Kazue Asano
Fluorinated gases, otherwise known as F-gases, are a range of industrial gases which have a powerful effect on the climate. As EU policy makers consider further proposals to limit the use of these gases, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has published data on their production, import and export.

Reducing F-gases’ effect on the climate requires an innovative approach from industry. In the future, it will likely be supported by a stronger EU policy limiting the use of F-gases with high global warming potentials.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director

There are three main categories of F-gases - hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Their global warming potential (GWP) varies widely, but can be very high - a single tonne of SF6 has the same global warming potential as almost 24 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

This means quantities of F-gases are expressed in two different ways: in metric tonnes, and also in global warming potential (GWP) weighted tonnes, or CO2 equivalent tonnes. Such units take into account the gases’ overall effect on the climate.

Some F-gases are used as replacements for ozone-depleting substances, which are largely being phased out in the EU in compliance with the Montreal Protocol and EU legislation. This means that F-gas use is increasing in a number of applications.

F-gases accounted for approximately 2 % of EU overall greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 (CO2 equivalent), and this share continues to increase. While emissions of all other main groups of greenhouse gases reduced significantly between 1990 and 2011, F-gases emissions have increased more than 50 % over this period, when measured in CO2 equivalent.

To control these gases, the European Commission proposed a new F-Gas Regulation in 2012, which aims to cut current F-gas levels by two thirds by 2030. The proposed policy maintains many features of the current legislation, and would also progressively phase down sales of some gases on the EU market while simultaneously banning F-gases with a high GWP. This proposal is still being negotiated by the European Parliament and Council.

Under the current F-Gas Regulation, Member States must improve the leak-tightness of equipment containing F-gases, and avoid using them when there are environmentally-superior alternatives.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “Reducing F-gases’ effect on the climate requires an innovative approach from industry. In the future, it will likely be supported by a stronger EU policy limiting the use of F-gases with high global warming potentials.”

Current trends

Companies producing, importing or exporting more than one tonne of F-gases must report quantities to the European Commission. The overall quantities, reported by 129 companies, are published today by the EEA, ‘Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases 2012’. Volumes of gases are given in both metric tonnes and CO2-equivalent.

When expressed in terms of CO2-equivalent, exports of F-gases during the last two years were at their highest levels since reporting started in 2007, the report says. Imports of F-gases decreased by 10 % between 2011 and 2012, while the ‘net supply[1]’ of F-gases in 2012 shows little change from 2011.

Of the net supply of F-gases in the EU, HFCs used in refrigeration and air conditioning account for 62 % (CO2 equivalent). Manufacturing electrical equipment sometimes uses SF6, and this accounted for 23 % of the net supply. The HFCs used in aerosols were responsible for 6 %. Other HFC uses include fire protection and foams.

[1] 'Net supply' provides information on the actual use of (bulk) F-gases by EU industries. It is calculated by adding reported amounts for production, bulk imports, stocks held on 1 January of the reporting year and 'other amounts collected for reclamation or destruction from within the EU', and then subtracting reported amounts for bulk exports, destruction (on-site by reporting companies and off-site within the EU on reporting companies' behalf), amounts used as feedstock by reporting companies and stocks held on 31 December of the reporting year.



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