New commitments to reduce HFCs show leadership

The fastest growing family of greenhouse gases – extremely potent hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — aren’t going to be growing as fast in the future.

Today’s White House announcement of voluntary industry commitments to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), along with new regulations put in place over the past year, have created game-changing shifts toward more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Developed as substitutes for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the late 1980s, HFCs have become widely used worldwide in refrigerators, air conditioners, foam products, and aerosols. While they don’t contribute to ozone depletion, HFCs can trap 1,000 times or more heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide. This means they have a high global warming potential (GWP).

The amount of these compounds produced around the world has been growing at a rate of more than 10 percent per year. Unless controlled, emissions of HFCs could nearly triple in the U.S. by 2030. Strong international action to reduce HFCs could reduce temperature increases by 0.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, a critical contribution to global efforts to limit climate change.

The 16 voluntary industry commitments that make up today’s announcement highlight the innovation and leadership U.S. industry is showing in meeting the challenges of addressing climate change. These actions build on 22 commitments made by industry at a White House event just a year ago.

Progress in developing alternatives has been dramatic and is likely to accelerate even more over the next few years. For example:

  • Coca Cola has installed 1.5 million HFC-free cooler units in its global network.
  • Dow Chemical is shifting several of its foam lines to low-GWP alternatives.
  • Mission Pharmacal introduced the first zinc oxide aerosol product using a new low-GWP alternative.
  • Goodman Global Inc. will soon be introducing the first package terminal air-conditioning unit that relies on a low-GWP coolant.
  • Both Chemours (formerly DuPont) and Honeywell have commissioned a number of new plants to ensure adequate quantities of alternatives with lower global warming potential are available to companies worldwide.

As a critical complement to these voluntary industry actions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented a series of new rules over the past year under its Significant New Alternatives Program (SNAP). These rules both expanded the range of acceptable low-GWP alternatives and limited the use of high-GWP HFCs where more environmentally friendly alternatives are available.

Today’s announcement also includes a new proposed rule that would extend refrigerant managing practices (e.g., recycling) now required for ozone-depleting substances to HFCs.

Together, these voluntary and regulatory actions demonstrate both the importance of acting and the feasibility of shifting to alternatives. They also help the United States make a strong case to the international community as nations gather the first week in November to discuss phasing down HFCs globally.