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Published: September 2011
The fully halogenated chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and the partially halogenated hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) (as well as hydrobromofluorocarbons [HBFCs], the HALONS, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform and methyl bromide) are stratospheric ozone-depleters. Depletion of the ozone layer is a critical issue because that layer protects the earth from unacceptably high levels of ultraviolet radiation. High levels of ultraviolet radiation affect both human health and the environment through higher incidences of skin cancer, cataracts, immune system suppression, potentially reduced yields of certain crops, potential damage to aquatic plankton and, thereby, the global food chain and increased formation of ground-level ozone and smog.
As a result of the Montreal Protocol and Kyoto Protocol and subsequent amendments and ratification by individual countries, there are current and proposed regulations limiting the production, consumption and trade of CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs. Since the mid-1970s, the global fluorocarbons market has undergone a number of major transitions toward a greater use of non-ozone-depleting HFCs and non-global-warming fluorocarbons and nonfluorocarbon alternatives in emissive applications.
Fluorocarbon products that do not contain chlorine and/or bromine (i.e., fully fluorinated and hydrofluorinated [HFC] products) are not stratospheric ozone-depleters and production of these products is not being eliminated by the Montreal Protocol. They are, however, restricted by the U.S. Clean Air Act and must be recovered instead of released to the atmosphere. Similar national environmental laws implement the Montreal Protocol in the various nations that have ratified the agreement. The extent to which some HFC fluorocarbons, particularly HFC-134a, contribute to climatic change or global warming has become the subject of significant environmental concern, particularly in Europe, and raises questions about the continued use of these ODP-free CFC-replacement chemicals.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of fluorocarbons:
Most of the individual chemical products discussed in this report are substituted, saturated, aliphatic, C1-4 hydrocarbons that contain fluorine and hydrogen; the older products additionally contain chlorine. Most of these chemical products have similar chemical compositions and properties. Common end-use applications include use as refrigerants, blowing agents, raw materials for fluoropolymers and elastomers, solvent driers or cleaners, and aerosol propellants. The generic term fluorocarbon is applied to all these chemicals. Many have experienced regulatory demise as ozone-depleters, others are scheduled to be phased out because of their ozone-depletion potential (ODP) and several others face ongoing regulatory hurdles.
The global fluorocarbons industry has reoriented its focus to product specialization, fewer plants, global markets, and joint ventures. More consolidation and restructuring is expected.
HFCs, FCs and other fluorine-based compounds are some of the alternatives to HCFCs and CFCs. However, alternative technologies and not-in-kind chemicals also compete with the fluorocarbons in various applications.
Refrigeration and air-conditioning remains the largest market segment for fluorocarbons. Overall, the segment has many alternatives with both fluorocarbons (including HCFCs, HFCs and HFOs) and nonfluorocarbon alternatives. Non-fluorocarbon-based products, such as hydrofluoroolefin hydrocarbons, have been introduced and are now the established standard in Europe and Japan for automobiles and home refrigeration, respectively, replacing HFC-134a. Developing countries have effectively completed the transition to HFC-134a from CFC-12 and some countries may leapfrog directly to HFO-1234yf in mobile air-conditioning.
From 2010 to 2015, global consumption will increase at about a 4% annual rate. North American consumption will increase at a 2.3% average annual rate, Western European consumption at about 1% per year, and Japanese consumption at about 4% per year. China is the world's fastest growing fluorocarbon market, with average annual growth of about 6.5% expected through 2015.