The monitoring of emissions of halogenated hydrocarbons is an increasingly common practice in industry due to their high environmental impact and, in particular, the F-Gas Regulation at European level establishes a common framework for the regulation of their use, marketing and handling throughout the EU with the aim of reducing their emissions and eliminating their use.
What are fluorinated greenhouse gases?
Fluorinated gases are chemical compounds (halogenated hydrocarbons) that contain fluorine and other elements in their molecular structure.
These man-made gases were introduced in the early 90s and are used in a wide range of applications including refrigeration, air conditioning, foam production and electronics, temporarily replacing substances that deplete the ozone layer.
The main problem with these gases is their high capacity to trap heat in the atmosphere (as measured by the atmospheric warming potential indicator), which contributes to global warming; they are therefore considered to be the main greenhouse gases (GHGs).
The main fluorinated greenhouse gases are
- Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
- Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
- Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)
What is the GWP? Global Warming Potential
Global Warming Potential (GWP) is a measure of the global warming impact of a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide (CO2).
The GWP is calculated based on the radiative effect of each gas in the atmosphere and its lifetime in the atmosphere, using CO2 as the reference gas, which is assigned a GWP of 1.
The GWP values of other gases are calculated by comparison with CO2 and are expressed as the ratio of the heating potential of the gas in question to the heating potential of CO2.
It is important to note that the GWP depends not only on the ability of the gas to trap heat, but also on its lifetime in the atmosphere. Some gases, such as methane, have a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than CO2, which means that their emissions have a more rapid but shorter-term warming effect.
Trifluoromethane (HFC-23), used in the manufacture of semiconductors, as a refrigerant or as a fire extinguishing agent, is the most potent known HFC, with a GWP of 14,600, meaning it is 14,600 times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
On the other hand, SF6 is the main fluid used in medium and high voltage electrical equipment due to its dielectric properties and poses an environmental risk as its GWP is 22,800 times higher than that of CO2.
What is the usage of fluorinated gases?
F-gases are used for a variety of purposes in different industrial sectors and therefore emissions occur during use, production and maintenance.
- Refrigeration and air conditioning: F-Gases are used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems to maintain appropriate temperatures. These systems emit F-gases into the atmosphere during use and maintenance.
- Foam production: F-gases are used as blowing agents in the manufacture of foams, such as those used in mattresses and furniture.
- Chemical industry: F-gases are used in the production of chemicals such as solvents and aerosols.
- Aluminium production: F-gases are used as melting and cooling agents in the production of aluminium. These processes release fluorinated gases into the atmosphere.
- Electrical sector: F-gases are used in electrical equipment such as switches and transformers for insulation and cooling.
- Automotive sector: F-Gases are used in air conditioning systems and as refrigerants in engine cooling systems.
The regulation governing emissions of fluorinated gases into the atmosphere in the industrial sector in the European Union is Regulation (EU) No 517/2014 on fluorinated greenhouse gases.
This Regulation establishes a common framework for regulating the use, placing on the market and handling of fluorinated greenhouse gases throughout the EU with the aim of reducing and phasing out emissions in the coming years: a 79% reduction by 2030 and an 85% reduction by 2035 compared to 2015 emission levels.
The Regulation sets out specific requirements for the use of fluorinated gases in different industrial sectors and lays down measures to reduce emissions to the atmosphere.
These include a ban on the placing on the market of refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment containing fluorinated gases with a high global warming potential (GWP) from 2020.
It also establishes a registration system for equipment containing these gases and a certification system for companies handling them.
This certification must attest to compliance with training and record-keeping requirements, and that they have the necessary equipment and tools to handle these gases safely.
In Spain, the regulation governing the handling and maintenance of equipment containing fluorinated gases is Royal Decree 115/2017 of 17 February, which regulates the marketing and handling of fluorinated gases and equipment based on them, as well as the certification of professionals who use them.
Fluorinated gases emission monitoring equipment
Monitoring HFC emissions is important not only to comply with environmental regulations, but also to reduce production costs.
Early detection of leaks and optimisation of systems can significantly reduce energy and maintenance costs.
Some of the methods used to monitor emissions in industrial plants include
Gas analysers, which are devices that measure the concentration of certain fluorinated gases in the air. They can be installed at the outlet of equipment and ventilation ducts, as well as in specific areas of the industrial plant.
Leak detection systems, such as sensors placed in areas where a leak may occur, such as in refrigeration lines, valves or tanks, that allow operators to be alerted in real time when a leak is detected.
Conclusion: F-Gas Monitoring and Regulation
The use of F-gases in industry is widespread in the chemical, electrical, refrigeration and air-conditioning industries, aluminium producers and even in the automotive industry.
But their high Global Warming Potential (GWP) makes it vital to reduce and eliminate them in order to combat global warming.
It is for this reason that the European (EU) F-Gas Regulation No. 517/2014 aims at an 85% reduction by 2035 compared to 2015 emissions.
Therefore, in the industrial field, monitoring the emissions of these gases is essential both to comply with the established regulation and for its environmental implications.