The Climate Imperative to Transition to HFC-Free Technologies


Recognising the devastating consequences of climate change, the international community, under the 2015 Paris Agreement, agreed to keep global average temperature increase below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C. To achieve this, greenhouse gas sources from all sectors need to be swiftly curbed and sustainable, climate-friendly technologies adopted.

In October 2016, the international community adopted the Kigali HFC Amendment under which all governments committed to legally binding targets to phase-down the global production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) within the regulatory regime of the Montreal Protocol. 

HFCs are extremely potent greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigeration and air-conditioning as replacement chemicals for ozone depleting substances, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) which are already being phased out under the auspices of the Montreal Protocol.


HFC Phase-Down Schedule under Kigali Amendment

The Kigali Amendment assigns specific phase-down targets as described below and in Table 1.

The HFC reductions are measured on the basis of overall carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) impact as HFCs have widely differing global warming potential (GWP), ranging from 53 to 14,800.  The agreement includes two phase-down options for developing countries (Article 5 or A5 countries) and an earlier phase-down schedule for developed countries (non-Article 5 or non-A5 countries).

(a) Non-A5 countries: Industrialised countries will reduce the production and consumption of HFCs by 10 per cent in 2019 reaching 85 per cent reduction in 2036 relative to 2011-2013 levels.

(b) A5 countries Group 1: Most developing countries will freeze HFC production and consumption in 2024 and achieve 80 per cent reduction in 2045 relative to 2020-2022 levels. This group includes China, by far the largest HFC consumer and producer, as well as other big consumer countries like Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand which have all opted for the earlier schedule (Group 1). 

(c) A5 countries Group 2: The rest of developing countries will freeze HFC production and consumption by 2028 and achieve 85 per cent reduction in 2047 relative to 2024-2026 levels. This group includes 10 countries: India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain).

Based on the current agreement, HFC consumption will reach a plateau of 15 per cent of the baseline in 2036 for developed countries, in 2047 for countries in Group 2 and a plateau of 20 per cent in 2045 for countries in Group 1. Despite the differentiated baselines and reduction steps, with some countries making slower reductions, the bulk of HFC consumption and production in developing countries will be reduced under the earlier schedule.

The Kigali Amendment provides a strong market signal that will accelerate innovation and technology development for HFC-free refrigeration technologies, conditions which will likely trigger a more rapid HFC phase-down than currently prescribed under the amendment.

   Table 1. HFC Phase-down schedule under the Kigali Amendment[i]

  Non-A5 (developed countries) A5 (developing countries)- Group 1 A5 (developing countries)- Group 2


-HFC Component

2011- 2013

Average HFC consumption



Average HFC consumpion


Average HFC consumption

Baseline - HCFC Component 15% of baseline 65% of baseline 65% of baseline
Freeze 2024 2028
1st Step 2019 - 10% 2029 - 10% 2032 - 10%
2nd Step 2024 - 40% 2035 - 30% 2037 - 20%
3rd Step 2029 - 70% 2040 - 50% 2042 - 30%
4th Step 2034 - 80%    
Plateau 2036 - 85% 2045 - 80% 2047 -85%
Notes Belarus, Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, 25% HCFC component and 1st two steps are later: 5% in 2020, 35% in 2025 Article 5 countries not part of Group 2

GCC, India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan


Why Is It Imperative to Reduce HFC Use?

As global demand for cooling increases and the standard of living improves in developing nations, HFC emissions are soaring. Without the Kigali Agreement, under a business as usual (BAU) scenario, projected HFC emissions could be equivalent to 7 to 19 per cent of the CO2 emissions in 2050.[ii] HFCs could add up to 0.5°C by 2100 if left unchecked, dangerously undermining the chances to arrest global warming.[iii]  

HFCs have negligible ozone depleting potential (ODP) but have a range of GWP thousands of times greater than that of CO2 which has the GWP of 1. For example, the GWP of HFC-134a is 1430 and that of HFC-23, 12 000.[iv]

As HFCs have a relatively short atmospheric life and very high GWP compared to other greenhouse gases, the rapid reduction  of these substances is one of the most readily available and cost effective measures to avoiding temperature increases in the near-future. This would reduce the short-term momentum towards climate tipping points. The reduction of HFCs is complimentary to the mitigation of CO2 and of other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

HFCs can be replaced with natural refrigerants and foam blowing agents, such as hydrocarbons, CO2, ammonia, air and water. These natural substances are efficient, cost-effective and have zero or very low GWP.

The Cool Technologies database provides examples demonstrating that natural substances are available and technically and economically feasible in almost all cooling applications: domestic and commercial refrigeration as well as air-conditioning, mobile air-conditioning, industrial processes and insulation foam blowing.

The database is regularly updated and submissions of new examples of companies working with fluorocarbon free technologies are welcomed.

Regulations restricting the use of HFCs and incentivizing the roll out of non-fluorinated, low-GWP refrigerants exist at national and regional levels around the world. Businesses operating with HFCs need to stay ahead of the curve and take appropriate measures to ensure compliance with HFC regulations and also seize new business opportunities like the use of natural refrigerants which is poised to take up larger market shares.

HFC control policies at regional and national level

Countries are already taking steps to curb HFC consumption and emissions under a range of different legal frameworks and policy mechanisms. Some of these actions, such as the European Union’s F-Gas Regulation, are based on comprehensive legislation drafted specifically for controlling HFC emissions.[v]  Several other countries have initiated regulations that achieve HFC reductions through one or a combination of the following types of domestic actions:

1. A phase-down in the total amount of HFCs that may be produced and consumed, measured by total volume or CO2e, and progressively reduced over time. The EU F-Gas Regulation establishes an HFC consumption phase-down schedule reaching 79 per cent CO2e reduction in 2030 on 2009-2012 base levels. The Australian Government has announced it will introduce new measures by 2018 including a phase-down of HFC imports by 85 per cent in 2036.[vi]

2. Prohibitions or bans on the use of HFCs in certain sectors or applications, starting with bans on the use of HFCs in new equipment, typically for all HFCs or for HFCs above a certain GWP threshold. The EU F-Gas Regulation imposes prohibitions on placing on the market of many types of new equipment containing HFCs above a GWP threshold (e.g. foams, refrigeration and air conditioning equipment). The United States Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program places prohibitions on some of the highest-GWP HFCs in some equipment.[vii] For example in 2015 the EPA passed a rule which prohibits the use of HFC-134a in passenger cars beginning with 2021 models as well as HFC-404A and HFC-507A in many retail food refrigeration uses, including supermarket systems, condensing units, stand-alone commercial refrigeration units and vending machines as of January 2017. The rule also prohibits HFC-407C in new stand-alone commercial refrigeration units and vending machines taking effect in 2019 and 2020.

3. Market incentives for manufacturers or end users to transition away from HFCs. These may take the form of discouraging the use of HFCs either through environmental taxes or providing fiscal incentives to reward adoption of low-GWP technologies.The Australian Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management (OPSGGM) Act includes a levy on imports of HFCs of $165 per tonne. The Japanese Revised F-Gas Law provides fiscal incentives for low-GWP alternatives, including a JPY 6 billion subsidy for adoption of natural refrigerant technology.

4. Mandatory licensing and reporting of production, imports and exports of HFCs.All importers are required to obtain a license and seek approval to import HFCs in Colombia. Other countries include Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Australia.

5. Refrigerant management provisions including bans on the venting or release of HFCs, periodic leak inspections or automatic leak detection devices in equipment, and requirements for HFCs to be recovered and recycled or reclaimed, or destroyed from systems during servicing or at end of life.The Canadian Federal Environmental Code of Practice for the Elimination of Fluorocarbon Emissions includes refrigerant management rules that prohibit the release of HFCs.[viii]

6. Management of HFC-23 by-product emissions by requiring destruction, chemical conversion or capture of HFC-23 produced as a by-product (of HCFC-22 production or other fluorinated gas production). Governments that import HCFC-22 or other chemicals that involve HFC-23 by-product can require proof of HFC-23 destruction before approving imports.The Chinese government has committed to funding up to 40 per cent of the equipment costs for HFC-23 destruction projects.

The Case for Natural Refrigerants

Natural refrigerant solutions like hydrocarbons (R-290, R-660a, R-1270), ammonia (R-717), carbon dioxide (R-744) and water have become increasingly popular in latest years as the need to balance environmental concerns, energy efficiency and costs with the choice of refrigerant is growing more complex. Switching from HCFCs and HFCs to low-GWP natural refrigerant solutions offers many advantages such as increased energy efficiency leading to overall cost reductions.

The natural refrigerant market is projected to grow to 1.4 billion USD in 2020 from 821.74 million USD in 2015.[ix] Europe is leading the global market for natural refrigerants while Asia-Pacific is the second largest market. CO2 refrigeration is projected to experience the highest growth up to 2020 due to the increased adoption by superstore and food retail chains for refrigeration and air-conditioning applications. Hydrocarbon refrigerants such as propane (R-290) and propylene (R-1270) are also estimated to reach high growth because of their rising application in domestic and light commercial refrigeration.

Performance of Natural Refrigerants

A potential technical barrier to transitioning to natural refrigerant solutions is the concern over the performance of some low-GWP, natural alternatives in geographic areas with high ambient temperature conditions.


Test results published by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) evaluated the performance of propane (R-290) and four other HFCs and HFC blends as alternatives to HCFC-22 in mini-split air conditioners.[x] The tests were conducted in ‘soft optimized’ units under ‘moderate’, ‘hot’, and ‘extreme’ ambient conditions ranging from 27.8°C to 55°C.

The test results took into account variables of energy efficiency (as measured by Coefficient of Performance, or COP), cooling capacity, and discharge temperatures. R-290 was the only refrigerant in the group that outperformed the energy efficiency of HCFC-22 under 35°C, 52°C and 55°C ambient conditions. At the high-moderate and hot conditions of 35°C and 52°C, R-290 achieved 7 per cent COP gains, while the other four alternatives experienced declines between -7 per cent and -16 per cent. The discharge temperatures of R-290 were also lower than those of the other alternatives, a factor which may suggest greater reliability and a longer lifetime for equipment using propane compared with the other alternatives.[xi]

The COP losses experienced by the other synthetic alternatives are particularly important results, as losses in COP are typically more difficult to recover through optimization than losses in cooling capacity.[xii] This suggests that optimization of units for R-290 will result in better efficiency, similar capacity, and greater reliability due to lower discharge temperatures in high ambient climates than other alternatives.


The use of CO2 transcritical technology is widely applied in the commercial sector, with over 8, 730 stores or 8 per cent of the European food retail sector operating with CO2 transcritical technology as of October 2016.[xiii] Energy savings here are typically between 10 and 35 per cent greater than that of synthetic refrigerated systems.[xiv]

Even in warmer climates, where the use of CO2 has historically been limited due to a poorer energy performance, advancements in ejector and parallel compression technology has resulted in CO2 outperforming synthetic refrigerants in commercial applications. As a result, the use of CO2 in these climates has been known to yield energy savings of up to 30 per cent, even in temperatures reaching 50°C.[xv]


The use of ammonia (R-717) is also well established in cooling applications, particularly in the industrial sector, where HFC-free cooling has been used for more than 150 years. In developed countries, natural refrigerants such as ammonia are used in around 90 per cent of industrial refrigeration.[xvi] Although the use of ammonia in this sector in developing countries represents only about 40 per cent, controls placed on the use of HCFCs in developing countries under the Montreal Protocol are expected to further push the growth in ammonia use in this sector.[xvii] When used in these applications, studies have shown that its favourable cooling properties make ammonia systems typically 15 per percent more efficient than other refrigerants. However, in many cases, the energy savings can be much higher.[xviii]

As a result of its high efficiency, zero ODP, and zero GWP qualities, ammonia is also the refrigerant of choice in the fishery industry, particularly in developing countries.



[ii] HFCs: A critical link in protecting climate and the ozone layer (November 2011), UNEP synthesis report. Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[iii] Primer on HFCs (July 2016), Working Paper, Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, referencing  Xu Y., Zaelke D., Velders G.J.M., & Ramanathan V. (2013) The role of HFCs in mitigating 21st century climate change, in Atmos. Chem. Phys., 13, 6083-6089.

[iv] IPCC Working Group III Mitigation. Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[v] EU legislation to control F-gases. Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[vi] Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Energy, Outcomes of the Review of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Programme, Fact Sheet. Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[vii] US SNAP Regulations. Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[viii] Environmental Code of Practice for the Elimination of Fluorocarbon Emissions from Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Systems. Available at Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[ix] ‘Regulations set to boost global natural refrigerants market’ (2015). Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[x] Abdelaziz et al. (2015), Alternative Refrigerant Evaluation for High-Ambient-Temperature Environments: R-22 and R-410A Alternatives for Mini-Split Air Conditioners, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[xi] For more information on the link between discharge temperatures and compressor failure, see Danfoss, ‘Why Compressors Fail’. Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[xii] Abdelaziz et al. (2015), Alternative Refrigerant Evaluation for High-Ambient-Temperature Environments: R-22 and R-410A Alternatives for Mini-Split Air Conditioners, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[xiii] Shecco (October 2016), F-Gas Regulation Shaking Up the HVAC&R Industry. Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[xiv] Shecco and Unido (2013), Natural Solutions for Developing Countries, see page 17. Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[xv] Bitzer South Africa (16 Feb 2016). Retail store increases in size by 50 per cent & reduces energy consumption by 30 per cent. Available at: Last accessed 23 Feb 2016.

[xvi] Expert Group (2013), Cold Hard Facts 2. Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[xvii] Expert Group (2013), Cold Hard Facts 2. Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.

[xviii] HFCs: A critical link in protecting climate and the ozone layer (November 2011), UNEP synthesis report, see page 36. Available at: Last accessed 06 December 2016.