or 'HFCs' have been increasingly used in the last decade or so
as an alternative to ozone damaging CFCs in refrigeration systems.
Unfortunately, though they provide an effective alternative to
CFCs, they can also be powerful greenhouse gases with long atmospheric
The three main HFCs are HFC-23, HFC-134a and HFC152a, with HFC-134a
being the most widely used refrigerant. Since 1990, when it was
almost undetectable, concentrations of HFC-134a have risen massively.
HFC-134a has an atmospheric lifetime of about 14 years and its
abundance is expected to continue to rise in line with its increasing
use as a refrigerant around the world.
The widespread use of HFCs as refrigerants will inevitably lead
to increases in their atmospheric concentrations. HFCs have provided
an efficient and cost effective alternative to the use of the
ozone destroying CFCs, now banned under the Montreal Protocol.
However, with HFC-134a and, in particular, HFC-23 having such
long atmospheric lifespans (14 and 260 years respectively) HFCs
do pose a significant greenhouse gas problem.
Potential for control
Alternative refrigerants to HFCs, such as hydrocarbon based coolants,
are already commercially available. However, HFCs are now used
in huge numbers of fridges and the like around the world. Phasing
out of HFC use, and careful collection and disposal of existing
HFC refrigerants, seems the best option now available in the context
of limiting their greenhouse gas impact.