IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

6.4.15 Trade-offs involving energy-related emissions and halocarbon emissions

Emissions of halocarbons from building cooling and refrigeration equipment, heat pumps and foam insulation amount to 1.5 GtCO2-eq at present, compared to 8.6 GtCO2 from buildings (including through the use of electricity) (IPCC/TEAP, 2005). Emissions due to these uses are projected only to 2015 and are constant or decline in this period. Halocarbon emissions are thus an important consideration. Issues pertaining to stratospheric ozone and climate are comprehensively reviewed in the recent IPCC/TEAP report (IPCC/TEAP, 2005).

Halocarbons (CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs) are involved as a working fluid in refrigeration equipment (refrigerators, freezers and cold storage facilities for food), heating and cooling of buildings (heat pumps, air conditioners and chillers) and as an blowing agent used in foam insulation for refrigerators, pipes and buildings. All three groups are greenhouse gases. The GWP of HCFCs is generally lower than CFCs. The GWP of HFCs is also generally lower than that of the CFCs, but generally slightly higher than that of the HCFCs. The consumption (production plus imports, minus exports, minus destruction) of CFCs except for critical uses (e.g., medical devices) stopped in 1996 in developed countries, while developing countries have been given to 2010 to eliminate consumption. HCFCs are being phased out, also for reasons of ozone depletion, but will not be completely phased out of production until 2030 in developed countries and 2040 in developing countries. Nevertheless, projected emissions of HCFCs and HFCs (and ongoing emissions from CFC banks) are sufficiently high that scenarios of halocarbon emissions related to buildings in 2015 show almost the same emissions as in 2002 (about 1.5 GtCO2-eq. emissions). For the coming decade or longer, the bank of CFCs in the stock of cooling equipment and foams is so large that particular attention needs to be given to recovering these CFCs.

Lifetime emissions of refrigerants from cooling equipment, expressed as CO2-eq per unit of cooling, have fallen significantly during the past 30 years. Leakage rates are generally in the order of 3%, but rates as high as 10–15% occur. By 2010, it is expected that HFCs will be the only halocarbon refrigerant to be used in air conditioners and heat pumps manufactured in developed countries. Non-halocarbon refrigerants can entail similar efficiency benefits if the heat pump is fully optimised. Thus, both the performance of the heat pump and the impact of halocarbon emissions need to be considered in evaluating the climatic impact of alternative choices for refrigerants.

The climatic impact of air conditioners and most chillers is generally dominated by the energy used to power them. For leakage of HFC refrigerants at rates of 1 to 6%/yr (IPCC/TEAP, 2005) (best practice is about 0.5%/yr) and recovery of 85% of the refrigerant (compared to 70–100% in typical practice) at the end of a 15-year life, refrigerant leakage accounts for only 1 to 5% of the total impact on climate of the cooling equipment to up to 20%, without end-of-life recovery, of the total impact (derived from (IPCC/TEAP, 2005). This demonstrates the importance of end-of-life recovery, which is highly uncertain for HFCs at present. However, for CFC chillers, the high GWP of the refrigerant and the typical high leakage of older CFC-based designs cause the refrigerant to be a significant factor in overall emissions. This demonstrates that emphasis needs to be put on the replacement of CFC chillers in both developed and developing countries for which hydrocarbons are now widely used in EU countries.

The energy/HFC relationship for air conditioners does not hold for most large built-up refrigeration systems, such as those found in supermarkets and hypermarkets. Roughly half of the total equivalent emissions from these systems result from the refrigerant, in case an HFC blend is used. Various designs explored in IPCC/TEAP report (IPCC/TEAP, 2005) indicate that direct refrigerant emissions can drop from 40–60% of the total emissions in a typical system to 15% for improved systems. The value is 0% for systems using hydrocarbon or ammonia refrigerants. Although some designs may incur a slight increase in energy use, total (energy + refrigerant) emissions are nonetheless significantly reduced.

For foam insulation blown with halocarbons, the benefit of reduced heating energy use can outweigh the effect of leakage of blowing agent when insulating buildings that were previously either poorly insulated or uninsulated (Ashford et al., 2005). However, for high levels of insulation, the opposite becomes true (Harvey, 2007) without end-of-life recovery of the blowing agent. In general terms, the use of methods such as Life Cycle Climate Performance (LCCP) is essential in evaluating the most appropriate course of action in each situation.