Reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by phasing out
hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) remains a priority for many
countries, however factors such as government policy, available
financing for transition to alternatives and differences
between end use provisions are creating uncertainties over the
impact this will have on demand for acid grade fluorspar
Moves to cut GHG emissions through stricter environmental
regulations are also generating ambiguity around how the
transition to hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) as replacements for
HFCs will affect the market.
The US government recently announced new private sector
commitments aimed at shrinking the use of HFCs and encouraging
the development of new eco-friendly alternatives.
However, the approaches of Article 5 (developing) and
Non-Article 5 (developed) countries (as defined by the Montreal
Protocol – an international treaty signed in 1987
aimed at protecting the ozone layer by removing damaging
substances from industrial and consumer usage) towards phasing
out HFCs differ because of variations in national reduction
schedules and the targets different countries set.
Consumption rates of hydrofluoric (HF) acid, the principal
feedstock for fluorochemicals and fluoropolymers, stand to be
most affected by this initiative in the short term and the
fluorspar industry is anxious to receive some clarity on how
the situation is likely to develop.
According to Ray Will, director of chemical industry
consulting at industry consultancy IHS, Article 5 countries,
which include China, India and other developing economies have
markedly different phase-down schedules to Non-Article 5
countries, such as the US, Japan and European nations.
Having established a leading market position in the last
decade, China is concerned with remaining dominant in HFC and
HF production and is therefore paying close attention to how
the phase-down scheduling will affect its HF
Will said that while HFC phase down is gaining pace in
Non-Article 5 countries, major declines are still several years
away for the US, with developed economies still consuming HFCs,
and HFO usage growing in both categories of country.
"[In the] short term, this market trend will have a positive
impact on acidspar demand," Will said. "However, in the longer
term, growth will likely remain slow, as non-fluorinated
refrigerants become more prevalent."
Slower manufacturing and demand for
refrigerants in developing
economies has hit acidspar demand.
Declines in future HF consumption
Tightening restrictions by the US Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) on the consumption of HFCs – with
measures aiming to cut the equivalent of more than 1bn tonnes
carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2025 – a decline in
HF consumption rates looks probable. It is especially likely,
given that a number of major US fluorochemical producers have
already taken steps towards phase out.
New York-listed Honeywell, one of the world’s
leading fluorochemical companies, has announced a range of low
global warming potential (GWP) products that will reduce GHG
emissions by 475m tonnes CO2 by 2025. Meanwhile, The
Chemours Co., which was recently spun out of US chemicals
conglomerate, DuPont, has outlined plans to encourage
consumption of its newly developed HFO-1234yf sustainable
Since HFOs are richer in fluorine content than HFCs, the
growth in HFO production will counter some of the decline from
HFC phase out.
While this trend is likely to be observed in the longer
term, the current soft demand for HF acid and acidspar has been
caused by the slowdown in global economies, especially in
China, where demand for refrigerants and other types of
fluorspar-based industrial chemicals has declined in line with
lower manufacturing output.
IHS’ Will told IM that
although HFC phase outs will have an impact on future demand
for HF acid, decelerating growth in China has had an immediate
impact on the market, thanks to the decline in the
country’s aluminium and steel industries, which
are major fluorine-consuming markets.
The US and Europe are expected to remain at the forefront of
the phase out trend, meanwhile, which will have an impact on
the market in these regions.
However, a rise in the production of HFOs will lead to
direct and indirect increases in acidspar demand between 2015
and 2019 for Non-Article 5 countries.
Improved acidspar consumption
Acidspar demand is primarily driven by the fluorochemicals
and aluminium fluoride markets. Both sectors consume HF acid as
an intermediate product, which is almost entirely manufactured
However, demand from the two major downstream markets has
dropped considerably since 2012.
While regulations and environmental concerns have renewed
the focus on next-generation chemicals, namely HFO
alternatives, following the successful suppression of
chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydroc-hlorofluorocarbon (HCFC)
emissions, these will have limited impact on acidspar
Industry sources told IM that demand within
Asia, mainly from India and China, is likely to surge in the
more distant future, counterbalancing declines in other
Transition to HFOs will continue to be gradual, as UN
negotiations on this topic are yet to be concluded.
The effects of an extension of fluorocarbon emission
legislation will therefore not have a major impact on demand
for acidspar. Meanwhile, substantial growth in the fluorocarbon
industry approaching 2020 can be expected, owing to
environmental targets encouraging the uptake of these
substances, which will see diversification in acidspar