A Closer Look at Greenhouse Gases:  The Fluorinated Gases

When it comes to B2lab.ca air quality and global warming, there is nothing more important, perhaps, than greenhouse gases.  There are four basic types of greenhouses gases. Three of these—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—occur naturally in nature.  The fourth classification of greenhouse gas are the fluorinated gases; these are the only types of greenhouse gases that are solely the result of human activity.

Essentially, fluorinated gases are emitted through a handful of industrial processes. This could include aluminum manufacturing and semiconductor manufacturing. Most importantly, though, fluorinated gases are generally regarded as having notably high global warming potentials, especially in relation to other greenhouse gases. In fact, many fluorinated gases are only removed from the atmosphere when they are destroyed by sunlight (in the far upper atmosphere).

SUBSTITUTION FOR OZONE-DEPLETING SUBSTANCES

Hydrofluorocarbons are pretty common today.  You probably use several hydrofluorocarbons every day and do not even realize it.  They are present in:

  • Aerosols
  • Foam blowing agents
  • Refrigerants
  • Solvents
  • Fire retardants

The most prominent commercial use of hydrofluorocarbons is definitely in refrigerants.  Refrigerants are most commonly used in air conditioning systems in buildings and vehicles.  Now, it is important to remember that while hydrofluorocarbons belong to the greenhouse gas category of fluorinated gases, they were developed as a replacement for gases which were far more harmful to the ozone layer.  These ozone-depleting substances were chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs).

As a matter of fact, both HFCs and CFCs are being phased out of production and use as part of an international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol. This agreements recognizes that HFCs are quite potent greenhouse gases with very high global warming potential and they are released into the atmosphere via servicing, leakage, and disposal of the equipment in which they are regularly used.  

INDUSTRY

Perfluorocarbons are another type of fluorinated gas. This gas is the byproduct of several industrial processes that are normally associated with the production of aluminum as well as with the manufacturing of semiconductors.  Known colloquially as PFCs, perfluorocarbons have long atmospheric lifetimes and are definitely regarded as having high global warming potential.  

TRANSMISSION and DISTRIBUTION of ELECTRICITY

Sulfur hexafluoride (which is also used in magnesium processing and in the manufacture of semiconductors) is commonly used in the electrical transmission equipment (like circuit breakers). Sulfur hexafluoride has the highest global warming potential rating of any other greenhouse gas, obviously making it the most potent.