What the F-gases!?


What the F-gases!?

Published on 18 Oct 2022

“What are F-gases?”, you might ask. Although you may not have heard this term before, you surely know of them. They’ve acted as cooling chemicals in air conditioners and refrigerators since they were first developed in the 1930’s. But the question is to what cost?

Freons. You know the ones that were in your fridge when you were young but later got banned when it was found out that freons lead to depletion of the ozone layer? This was the first generation of fluorinated and chlorinated refrigerants — or F-gases — developed back in the 1930’s to solve the world’s cooling needs.

History repeats itself
When they were targeted by the Montreal Protocol in 1987 due to their environmental impact, a second generation of F-gases was born — the so-called HFCs. The old-timers were replaced with the newcomers, but it turned out to be a very unfortunate substitution since HFCs have a very high global warming potential (GWP).

Having tried two fluorinated ways to destroy the planet via air conditioning, it was time to try a third one — HFOs — when it was decided to phase out HFCs through the F-gas regulation in 2015. And, as sad as it seems, we now have yet another regrettable substitution on our hands.

“Three tries in and industry and legislators are still as far off target as they were in the 1930’s”

F-gases cause PFAS pollution
A big problem with the new F-gases is that HFOs break down into the PFAS trifluoro acetic acid (TFA), which is a very persistent, mobile and toxic substance. As a direct consequence of the widespread use of F-gases, this chemical is now found everywhere.

In one study, it accounted for more than 90% of the total PFAS concentration in the analysed water samples. From the water, TFA is then absorbed by plants and has been proven to end up in tea, beer and other stuff we eat and drink. If this wasn’t alarming enough, a recent study has concluded that the shift from HFCs to HFOs has caused a rise in TFA levels in surface waters by up to 250 times.

What the F-gases is going on here!? Three tries in and industry and legislators are still as far off target as they were in the 1930’s.

No reason to exempt them from PFAS regulation
F-gases account for over 70% of the refrigerants market in the world today. But, there is no reason at all it should continue like this. Safer alternatives such as ammonia, hydrocarbons, and carbon dioxide could — without a problem — replace the use of these PFAS-containing F-gases.

These alternatives are all well-established and readily available for all different kinds of uses. It’s just a matter of getting legislation up to speed.

“We’ve already made the same mistake three times before — let’s not do it again”

Even though the F-gas regulation that exists today does seek to minimise the risks of F-gases, it only focuses on ozone depletion and global warming potential. It does not cover the widespread environmental PFAS pollution caused by them.

Fortunately, a proposal for a broad restriction of PFAS chemicals is expected to be submitted to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) early next year, which would include the use of F-gases.

The F-gas industry is making efforts to get F-gases exempted from this regulation, claiming that they’re already covered in the other one. But one does not exclude the other, since the PFAS regulation will cover other aspects.

There is absolutely no reason to exempt F-gases from the upcoming regulation. Nor is there any reason to continue destroying our health and our planet by using these harmful gases.

We’ve already made the same mistake three times before — let’s not do it again.

Regarding HFOs/HFCs and PFAS
It’s important to point out that many of the mentioned F-gases (HFCs and HFOs) fall under the OECD definition of PFAS, and are therefore in themselves PFAS.

For further reference see OECD Fact Card