HCFs, the Ozone, and Global Warming Potential

Ozone is only part of the refrigerant problem.
Written by
Max Reintertsen
Published on
July 27, 2023

Recently, the world received encouraging news: due to decades-long efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, “holes” in the ozone layer are finally closing.

Although this represents a celebration-worthy milestone in the fight against climate disruption, the ongoing release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs) continues to negatively impact global warming potential (GWP). Compared to ozone depletion, GWP tends to occupy less space in the refrigeration space, but is a crucially important metric that must be accounted for when weighing the net impact of industrial activities on climate change. 

Here, we will discuss the importance of both measurements, as well as offer a potential solution for industry innovators that want to reduce their GWP footprint.

Ozone Depletion and Why It Matters

For decades, scientists have known that the release of CFCs and HFCs negatively impact the ozone layer by rapidly degrading ozone (O3) into oxygen (O2). Given ozone’s role as a protective atmospheric layer that weakens ultraviolet radiation, scientists feared that ozone depletion could have serious negative consequences, including increased rates of associated disease, ecological disruption (primarily due to polar ice melts), and more. 

Accordingly, industrialized nations around the world met in 1987 to determine policy standards capping the release of CFCs and HFCs. The resulting accord, called the Montreal Protocol, set in motion the gradual changes that led to the restoration of ozone we are celebrating today.

Global Warming Potential (GWP) and Why It Matters

Unfortunately, ozone depletion is only half of the story when it comes to the adverse impact of traditional refrigerants. Separate from their effect on ozone, CFCs and HFCs speed up warming of the atmosphere by lingering in the atmosphere and absorbing heat energy. The individual impact of different greenhouse gases (GHGs), measured over a 100-year period, is referred to as global warming potential, or GWP.

Carbon dioxide (CO2), for instance, holds a GWP rating of 1, as it is the standard unit used to assess the relative impact of other GHGs. Methane, as a more volatile GHG, has a rating of 27-30 GWP. To put refrigerants in perspective the commonly-used refrigerant HFC 134-A holds a GWP of 1430.

Although the Montreal Protocol’s rate-limiting efforts have made a tremendous impact on ozone depletion, the ongoing release of traditional refrigerants continues to warm the atmosphere. Compounding the problem is the fact that many of the chemicals used to replace those with high ozone impact possess significant GWP values. 

Accordingly, newer policy mandates, such as the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, have urged industrial nations to continue reducing CFC and HFC emissions wherever possible.

The State Of The Market Today And Its Net Impact On GWP

Today, industrial firms are spending time, money, and human resources reinventing their supply chains using modern refrigerants with less environmental impact. However, many of the strategies being employed continue to primarily focus on ozone depletion at the expense of GWP, when in reality, GWP likely has a far greater impact on climate disruption. In the future, we hope to see the conversation shift to include a larger emphasis on GWP, without losing sight of ozone’s importance. 

Manufacturers should continue to phase out the most destructive CFCs and HFCs being used today. But to ensure tomorrow’s stability, today’s industrial leaders must embrace modernized supply chains that incorporate “net zero” refrigeration. At this point, the projected consequences of rapid warming are both well known and severe, including agrarian and industrial disruption, global supply chain degradation, and the political, economic, and diplomatic consequences that follow. 

At Arctyc, we have developed reusable, smart, and durable shipping containers that are completely refrigerant free. We’re already helping leaders in agriculture, healthcare, and other vital sectors transform their cold chain, and now we want to help you.

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