This report, published by ATMOsphere, is meant to shine a light on the threat to environmental and human health stemming from the rapidly increasing use of HFO-1234yf as a refrigerant in motor vehicle air-conditioning and, as part of blends with HFCs, in commercial and industrial refrigeration and other applications.
HFO-1234yf is considered a PFAS (forever chemical) by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). But more importantly, fugitive emissions of HFO-1234yf readily produce an atmospheric degradation product, trifluoroacetic acid (TFA), that is also a PFAS, according to the OECD.
TFA descends to the Earth in rainfall across a wide geographic area, accumulating (because it doesn’t break down) in waterways that supply drinking water. Long-chain PFAS have already been determined to be extremely harmful chemicals. F-gases and TFA are shorter-chain PFAS but share the same chemical structure, persistence and potential for harm.
The proliferation of HFO-1234yf and TFA thus raises serious questions for the HVAC&R industry, end users of refrigerants and policymakers. The writing on the wall – in the form of numerous studies that are cited in this report – strongly points to the steady development of a new environmental and health problem stemming from the use of a fluorinated refrigerant, this time an HFO.
Even the chemical industry acknowledges the potential for harm by TFA after 2040, 17 years from now. Seventeen years ago, in 2005, HFCs were seen as a problematic refrigerant because of their high GWPs and contribution to climate change, which ultimately resulted in the Kigali Amendment and the phase down of HFCs around the world. Does the HVAC&R industry want yet another environmental calamity on its hands in 2040 – and possibly much sooner – because of the accumulation of TFA in the environment? Seventeen years ago, natural refrigerants were still not widely used in retail grocery stores, so HFCs were dominant.
But today, natural refrigerants like CO2 and hydrocarbons are commonly employed by stores around the world, and there is simply no reason to use an HFO blend that incorporates HFO-1234yf, not to mention HFCs like R134a and R32 with their high GWPs. Even for mobile air-conditioning, CO2 is a proven option, though car manufacturers have mostly opted for HFO-1234yf. Natural refrigerants are considered future-proof because they exist in the environment and pose no threat to it. The same cannot be said about HFO-1234yf and its blends.
Given the sizable investment that end users must make in refrigeration and air-conditioning, why would they spend that money on a solution that is not future-proof when a future-proof solution is available, tested and reliable? Policymakers should also not ignore the mounting evidence of TFA as an environmental threat.
In Europe, beginning in January 2023, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is planning to consider a proposal from five European nations to regulate TFA, HFO-1234yf and some other f-gases as PFAS under the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation. If the ECHA decides to regulate these chemicals as PFAS, it will send a resounding message throughout the world about their significant potential for harm.
As with climate change, the HVAC&R industry should follow the science when it comes to HFO-1234yf and TFA and work to avoid yet another environmental and health emergency in the years to come.
This is the forward extracted from the document. To download the full report, click here.