Campaigners issue warning on refrigerant emissions

| 27th October 2010
Dead fridges
courtesy of Adrian and Janet Quantock

Refrigerators emit HFCs over the entire course of their lifespan (image: Adrian and Janet Quantock)

UK efforts to combat ozone-depleting CFC gases has seen supermarkets and other refrigerant users switch to a problematic alternative in HFCs

Emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas HFC are higher than ‘previously assumed’, according to UK figures.

HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) have been brought in as a replacement to CFCs, used in spray cans and refrigerants after a major international agreement designed to reduce harmful ozone gases, known as the Montreal Protocol, was signed in the 1980s.

As a result, almost 90 per cent of all UK HFC emissions now result from leaking refrigerators, air-conditioners, foam materials and even asthma inhalers. Supermarket refrigeration is one of the biggest contributors.

HFCs are powerful greenhouse fluorinated gases (f-gases) that absorb cancerous infrared radiation and are 14,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), currently contributing to just under 2 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

A study undertaken by Defra claims a switch to gas and other so-called low global warming potential technologies could reduce the problem over the next 10 years. The report recommends swapping old models for newer ones to prevent leakages.
However, the Environment Investigation Agency (EIA) argue ‘the only responsible path for the government to take is to phase out the use of environmentally harmful chemicals.’

Replacing HFCs with gas based technology is becoming a ‘popular option’ according to EIA campaigner Fionnuala Walravens, but not enough is being done to implement alternatives in the UK.

‘I think the government needs to pay more attention to the enforcement of these measures. I’m concerned to see HFC emissions higher than anticipated as it questions the efficacy of current containment measures. If containment were possible we would still be using the first generation of synthetic refrigerants-CFCs,’ she said.

‘The F-gas regulation is currently under review and it is likely that an HFC phase-down may be proposed as the next step towards reducing HFC consumption. In light of this the government needs to introduce further measures to reduce unnecessary use of HFCs.’

Scientists insist completely replacing gas technologies with solid cooling technology like ‘magnetic cooling’ would be a better solution.

Dr Karl Sandeman of Imperial College London told the Ecologist ‘Magnetic cooling will surely have a very real impact on greenhouse gas emissions by refrigeration systems, as no gases, including greenhouse gases, are used at all.’

The UK needs to register HFC use in all areas if it is to meet current EU regulations. Friends of the Earth welcomed the report but urged the government to take further action ‘to reduce all potent f-gases’ and to ‘ensure that all companies involved replace f-gases where technically possible.’


Useful Links:
More on HFCs from the Environment Agency

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