HFC phase out one step closer after UN launches pollutant action plan

By Liz Gyekye
Published: Thursday, 17 December 2015

COP21 agreement targets refrigerants but national ratification is key to success, says IHS.

Governments and industries in the UN’s Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) have agreed an action plan to reduce global emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and methane.

The commitments, announced at the COP (Conference of Parties) 21 climate change summit in Paris in December, fall across four areas, including the refrigerant sector.

The Global Food Chain Council, which is part of the CCAC, committed to cut the use and emissions of high global warming potential HFCs, enhance energy efficiency and reduce food loss in the food cold chain, a supply chain which is temperature-controlled.

The Global Refrigerant Management Initiative oversaw a commitment from the refrigerant sector to reduce HFCs from refrigerant servicing by 30-50% within 10 years. Cutting SLCPs was described by scientists as a "second lever" for slowing down global warming, in addition to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) deputy executive director, Ibrahim Thiaw, said: "SLCP reduction is an example for the integrated approach taken in the 2030 development agenda."

Action on the sub-national level was represented by the government of California, presenting the state’s commitment to reduce black carbon emissions by 50% and methane and HFC emissions by 40%.

The new generation of environmentally-friendly refrigerants, hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), contain an increased proportion of fluorine than the older ozone depleting refrigerants, HFCs.

Ray Will, director of chemical industry consulting at IHS, told IM: "It is important that any plans made at international level are followed up by ratification into national law as well."

"For example, the US signed the Kyoto Treaty on an international level but this was not followed up by ratification into national law, so the Kyoto Protocol did not apply to the US in the end. It is important to observe the follow through," he added.

Will also said that the US and China have already signed a bilateral agreement by executive order to reduce HFCs and the EU has also enacted regulations to reduce HFCs, specific to particular applications.

The transition plans are significant for the fluorspar sector, since demand for acid grade fluorspar (acidspar) is primarily driven by the fluorochemicals and aluminium fluoride markets. Both sectors consume hydrofluoric (HF) acid as an intermediate product, which is almost entirely manufactured from acidspar.

Demand from the two major downstream markets has dropped considerably since 2012, putting pressure on fluorspar prices. The transition to next-generation HFO alternatives to HFCs is expected to be gradual, particularly in Asian countries, however, without the emergence of new applications, the long-term outlook is for reduced consumption of acidspar.