Potent greenhouse gases – fluorinated gases in the European Union

Published Sep 11, 2012.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has published new aggregated information on the production and trade of fluorinated gases – or F-gases – in the EU. Although emitted in relatively small quantities, the emissions of these gases are increasing, and many are several thousand times more powerful greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide (CO2).

 Image © Eric Burgers

Innovation is a key part of tackling climate change and for certain applications, viable alternatives to F-gases already exist.

EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade

In 2011, F-gases were used mostly for refrigeration and air-conditioning purposes, as well as in electrical equipment and in the production of foams and aerosols.

The new report, compiled by the EEA for the first time in cooperation with the European Commission, presents a summary of the latest data reported under the ‘F-Gas Regulation’ (No 842/2006) by 120 individual companies that have produced, sold, imported or exported F-gases in the European Union (EU).

The F-Gas Regulation is one of the main legal instruments with which the EU aims to reduce F-gas emissions by requiring companies to take a range of measures to reduce leaks from equipment containing F-gases and to recover the gases at the end of the equipment’s lifetime. Companies are also required to avoid using F-gases for some applications where environmentally superior alternatives are cost-effective.

F-gases are important because they contributed 2 % of total EU-27 GHG emissions in 2010, measured in terms of CO2-equivalent. Moreover, according to the latest official EU greenhouse gas emissions data, their contribution has been steadily growing since 1990.

“Innovation is a key part of tackling climate change and for certain applications, viable alternatives to F-gases already exist,” EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said. “This makes them an ideal candidate to replace with less harmful alternatives, in order to limit the growth of emissions”.


Key findings

Any company producing, importing or exporting more than one tonne of F-gases is required to report data to the European Commission.

  • 120 companies reported production, sales, import or export of F-gases for 2011, an increase of 12 % on the previous year.
  • In absolute tonnes of gas, there was a decrease in production (-5 %), imports (-6 %) and intra-EU sales (-12 %) of F-gases between 2010 and 2011. Exports increased by 5 %.
  • When these values are expressed in terms of global warming potential (GWP)-weighted emissions, different patterns emerge due to the large differences in GWP values of certain F-gases. An increase is still evident in exported F-gases (+12 %), but now also for production (+1 %). There were decreases in both imports (-8 %) and sales (-11 %).
  • Due to its very high global warming potential (GWP), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) makes up a significant proportion of F-gas use when statistics are expressed in terms of CO2‑equivalents. This gas is used mainly in electrical equipment.
  • It should be noted that F‑gases contained in imported equipment are not captured by the statistics in the report.

The European Commission is presently investigating further possible options for strengthening EU measures to reduce emissions of fluorinated gases and intends to present a new legal proposal this autumn.


About fluorinated greenhouse gases

Three groups of fluorinated greenhouse gases (the so-called ‘F-gases’) are covered by EU legislation and the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and SF6. These F-gases have chemical properties which make them useful in different types of products and applications, mainly as substitutes of ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and halons which are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol. The gases are used in a range of applications including refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, for manufacturing electronic goods including semiconductors, and in certain aerosols, foams and fire extinguishing systems.

While F-gases do not deplete the ozone layer, they are powerful greenhouse gases typically with long lifetimes in the atmosphere. Their GWP – the measure indicating the effectiveness of a substance to absorb thermal infrared radiation relative to carbon dioxide (and thus their contribution to climate change) – can be thousands of times higher than that of CO2.

– Courtesy of the EEA