European chemical manufacturers are covertly venting huge quantities of the powerful super greenhouse gas HFC-23, according to a study by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA). The report, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, says that Western Europe’s emissions of HFC-23s — an ‘F’ or fluorinated gas mainly used as a refrigerant — are between 60-140% higher than officially reported. Italy alone was found to be emitting 10-20 times more HFC-23s than it officially reports. The greenhouse gas has a global warming potential which is 14,800 times higher than CO2.
CHF3 is a potent greenhouse gas. The secretariat of the Clean Development Mechanism estimates that a ton of HFC-23 in the atmosphere has the same effect as 11,700 tons of carbon dioxide. More recent work suggests that this equivalency, also called a 100-yr global warming potential, is slightly larger at 14,800 for HFC-23. The atmospheric lifetime is 270 years.
According to the 2007 IPCC climate report, HFC-23 was the most abundant HFC in the global atmosphere until around 2001, which is when the global mean concentration of HFC-134a (1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane), the chemical now used extensively in automobile air conditioners, surpassed those of HFC-23. Global emissions of HFC-23 have in the past been dominated by the inadvertent production and release during the manufacture of the refrigerant HCFC-22 (chlorodifluoromethane).
There is no legal obligation on companies to reduce their HFC-23 waste gas emissions, but signatory states to the Kyoto Protocol must report their venting of the substance to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
“Nation states have to declare [HFC emissions] but their information is related to what they get from the [chemical]companies,” EMPA researcher Stefan Reimann told EurActiv.
An EMPA-style evaluation of the EU’s emissions inventory might strengthen Europe’s hand in international talks.
Reported values tend to be estimated rather than measured. EMPA is comparing measured results to estimated values.
The pollutant analysis by EMPA was conducted at its Jungfraujoch research station using a ‘MEDUSA’ special gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, which enabled more than 50 halogenated greenhouse gases to be evaluated and emission sources to be identified.
Because HFC-23s are almost exclusively emitted in the production of HFC-22s, “we exactly know our point sources,” Reimann said.
EMPA pointed the finger at Italy’s “sole HFC-22 plant west of Milan” (Solvay’s Solexis plant at Spinetta Marengo) as being responsible for the country’s over-emission of HFC-23s.
He confirmed that HFC-23 waste gases were created at the Solexis plant but said the question of whether they had been vented into the atmosphere was a difficult one to answer.
Denmark is currently calling on EU member states to ban the use of HFC-23 offsets in meeting national greenhouse gas reduction targets in the non-traded sectors.
Sixteen of the EU’s 27 nations have signed the Danish proposal but others, such as Italy, have a financial stake in HFC-23 offset projects.
Article by Andy Soos, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.