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View the documentCampaign against the ozone killers

Campaign against the ozone killers

Controversy over Technological Options for Elimination of CFCs
by Peter Bosse-Brekenfeld

The destruction of the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) is an environmental problem that affects the whole world. The ozone layer in the atmosphere protects us against ultraviolet-B radiation. If the ozone layer is further depleted, mankind faces the threat of a skyrocketing increase in disease coupled with declining food production. The rich countries of the North are responsible for over 85 per cent of this man-made environmental disaster. But affordable alternatives are urgently needed in developing countries as well, and above all in countries currently in a phase of rapid industrial growth. The Ozone Fund of the Montreal Protocol is providing assistance. Environmentalists and industry meanwhile disagree strongly about which technologies represent the best alternatives.

For at least seven years now, the ozone layer has been hitting the headlines regularly every winter. Because every winter sees the publication of more new measurements indicating further depletion of the ozone layer: the "ozone hole" is getting bigger. The ozone in the stratosphere has a life-preserving function because it absorbs ultraviolet-B radiation, which poses a threat to health.

A link between CFC emissions and depletion of the ozone layer was first suspected as far back as 1974. In 1986, scientists discovered the ozone hole over the Antarctic. And the ozone layer has been diminishing continuously since then. At the beginning of 1993 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that ozone levels over the greater part of Europe were more than 20% below normal long-term values. And "in North America ozone levels were 12% to 15% below normal, an average deficiency never before seen in 35 years of ozone observations."

Scientists and environmentalists paint a gloomy picture of the consequences for the environment and public health. According to the international environmental organization Greenpeace, these consequences include "skyrocketing rates of skin cancer and cataract, an increase in the severity and incidence of infectious diseases, the possible impairment of vaccination programmes and dramatic drops in phytoplankton populations".

The verdict is clear. The ozone killers are the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and the haloes, which are related to them. CFCs are hydrocarbon compounds in which the hydrogen atoms are completely or partially replaced by fluorine and chlorine compounds. Halons contain bromine as well as fluorine. CFCs, which are identified by number codes such as CFC-11, CFC-12, CFC-114, are extremely stable and chemically inert, and thus ideal for industrial production processes.

But this also means that they can spend up to 15 years migrating unimpeded through the troposphere and at the same time heating it up. CFCs are responsible for 20% of the greenhouse effect.

And the long migration period means that even if CFC production and consumption were halted immediately, the CFC molecules already in the atmosphere would carry on destroying the ozone layer for quite a few years to come. To make matters worse, there are over two million tonnes of CFCs trapped in insulating foams, solvents and car air conditioning systems. There is no sure way of disposing of these CFCs, even though recycling and dismantling facilities now exist with which the substances can be prevented from escaping into the stratosphere.

Since CFCs were first synthesized in 1932, more than 25 million tonnes of them have been produced. They were and still are - used as propellants, as refrigerants for refrigerators and car air conditioners, for insulating foams and in the case of the haloes - for fire fighting.

Consumption patterns

Consumption patterns have changed. Following the first warnings, use of CFCs as propellants in spray cans diminished, mainly as the result of a ban in the USA. But in the 1980s, industrial use of CFCs for foam production and with the boom in the computer industry as solvents and cleaning agents increased. Present-day utilization of CFCs and haloes is as follows: 20% in aerosols, 19% in foams, 28% for refrigeration, 19% as solvents, and 14% (haloes) as fire extinguishers.

The industrialized countries are responsible for more than 85% of the "ozone hole". However, the developing countries' consumption has risen in recent years and it is estimated that they will consume about 153,000 tonnes of CFCs in 1994. Among the developing countries, the Peopie's Republic of China is the biggest consumer and producer of ozone depleting substances (ODS). Of the 48,239 tonnes of CFCs it consumes, with an ozone depleting potential (ODP) of 60,000 tonnes, the People's Republic produces 63% itself.

As regards ODP, the haloes used for fire extinguishers lead the field, accounting for 28%. The reason is that haloes have an ODP - assumed to be I for CFC- 11 - of 6 10. The second most important sector in terms of ozone killer potential is refrigeration (21%), followed by aerosols (14%). In contrast to the industrialized countries, solvents play a minor role. India, with an ODP of 13,208 tonnes, is the second-biggest producer and consumer in the developing countries.

The Montreal Protocol

It took some time for humanity to heed the scientists warnings, much too long in the view of environmentalists. From 0.85 million tonnes in 1977, global consumption of CFCs continued to increase until the end of the 1980s, only decreasing as a result of international agreements. With the 1985 Vienna Convention for the protection of the ozone layer and - far more important - the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, signed on 16 September 1987, the international community adopted a programme for phasing out the ozone killers. Some countries, including Germany, decided to get rid of ODS more quickly.

The Protocol has meanwhile been ratified by 129 countries. At their annual conferences the signatories have agreed to tighten up a number of provisions, in particular in London in 1990, and most recently in Copenhagen, in 1992. For the 88 developing countries, the Article 5 countries, with a per capita ODS consumption of less than 300 g, longer phaseout times.

Phase-out periods

The currently applicable, binding phase-out periods are as follows:

- phase-out of ozone-depleting CFCs by I January 1996, with a 75% phase-out by 1994;
- total elimination of haloes in 1994;
- 100% phase-out of methyl chloroform by 1996;
- 100% phase-out of carbon tetrachloride by 1996.
- Besides the fully halogenated CFCs, with substances such as carbon tetrachloride, 1,1,1-trichloroethane and methyl chloroform, this list also contains substances with a lower ODP than CFCs.

A very much longer changeover phase was agreed upon for partly halogenated CFCs (HCFCs). They are regarded as transitional substances because they have an ODP of 0.15 or less. For these substances, maximum quantities were agreed upon which must be eliminated by continuous reduction until the year 2030 - e.g., to 35% of present levels by 2010.

Multilateral Fund

The industrialized countries must meet these deadlines. The developing countries have ten years longer to phase out CFCs. Also, at the second conference of the signatories to the Montreal Protocol, held in London in 1990, it was decided to set up a multilateral fund to help this group of countries phase out CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances (see box). With resources of $240 million (1991-1993), the fund is intended to finance a part of the incremental costs of the changeover. Incremental costs are incurred, for example, when a CFC production plant has to close before the end of its technical lifetime. The fund is also to be used to finance the transfer of "clean" technology.

TABLE 1:

Consumption of CFCs and halon by sectors in developing countries -estimate for 1994

Aerosols

10.4 %

Foams

16.3 %

Refrigeration

30.0 %

Solvents

38.1 %

Halons

5.2 %

Production in developing countries (in tonnes)

1991 production:

71,000

Capacity:

156,000

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), under whose patronage the conferences are organized, noted that between 1986 and 1991 the amounts of CFCs marketed decreased by about 40% as a result of the international agreements. The ozone hole nevertheless got bigger because of the long life of the ozone killers. Some countries plan to complete the switch to alternative substances earlier. Germany's environment minister Klaus Topfer was able to announce this spring that consumption of "ozone killers" in Germany has been reduced by 80% in comparison to 1986, when 71,000 tonnes were consumed. He said that CFCs would be completely phased out by mid-1994. The German producers of ozone depleting substances have also promised to halt CFC production by the middle of 1994. In recent years German manufacturers had produced almost twice the quantity of CFCs consumed in Germany.

Replacements with drawbacks

According to Greenpeace, "use of CFCs can be stopped now". The environmentalist organization adds: "An immediate ban on all chemicals that deplete ozone is not only essential, but commercially feasible and without the need to rely on HCFCs and HFCs", criticizing approval of the two most common replacements for CFCs, a solution which Joe Farman, British meteorologist and "discoverer" of the ozone hole, describes as "out of the frying pan into the fire". It is true that technological alternatives are now available which also do without these substances, thus neither destroying the ozone layer nor heating up the global climate.

HCFCs are permitted in industrialized countries until 2030, but a 65% reduction in consumption must be achieved by 2010. Here also, the developing countries have been given a further ten years to complete the changeover. HCFCs are up to 99 per cent less dangerous than CFCs, but they still destroy the ozone layer. With regard to the official ODP figures for HCFCs, the long time-span they are based on comes in for criticism. Environmental organizations believe that in the short and medium term their ozone depleting potential is higher than industry claims. This is why the EC, for example, is endeavouring to bring forward the final phase-out date. HCFCs should only be used temporarily, to accelerate replacement of fully halogenated CFCs, and only as far as absolutely essential.

Global warming potential

HFCs cause no damage at all to the ozone layer, because they contain no chlorine atom. But they do have a greenhouse effect - a Global Warming Potential or GWP, which is admittedly lower than that of CFCs. HFC 134, in particular, is currently very popular. It is meanwhile being produced in the USA, the UK and Germany. It is suitable above all as a refrigerant, and also as a blowing agent for foams, polyurethane foam in cans and compressed gas packaging. Medium-term estimates of annual consumption range from 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes. The German Federal Government, while recognizing the greenhouse potential of this substance, expects a GWP of less than one per cent by the year 2020.

Environmentalists see it differently. According to their calculations, global production of 200,000 tonnes of HFCs is equivalent to a 3,200fold to 4,700-fold higher CO2 emission, or the production of a major industrial nation like the UK or France.

Alternative technologies

In a global context, given existing consumption patterns of CFCs and haloes, adoption of technological alternatives for solvents, industrial refrigerants and foams is an urgent necessity. In the South, refrigeration technology is more important due to climatic conditions and the economic boom in some regions. CFC substitutes are meanwhile available for all applications, but most technological alternatives involve substances which have a slight ODP or a GWP. In the case of insulating materials such as polyurethane, the partly halogenated HCFC 142b is currently being tested as a substitute for CFC 11. HFC 134a is also being tested as a replacement for polystyrene foams, and a cellular glass foamed with CO2 at high temperature is also in use. This insulating material is made from natural raw materials such as sand, dolomite and limestone. Environmentalists point out that some of these foams, and especially those used a; packaging materials, are completely superfluous. Greenpeace lists numerous alternatives to polyurethane and polystyrene foams: as insulating materials, for example, fiberglass, cellulose, vermiculite, cellular glass and cork.

Alternatives to solvents and cleaning agents containing CFCs are now also available. Many of the biggest computer manufacturers are meanwhile introducing CFC-free solvents in their production processes. In the computer industry, cleaning is carried out with aqueous solutions, in combination with new devices such as the vacuum suction dryer.

A Greenpeace study describes another example, from Japan: "Two Japanese companies have developed a novel method for cleaning printed circuit boards. Their ice scrubber cleaning apparatus removes sub-micron contaminants from semi-conductor wafers using a process in which ice particles are sprayed at the dirty surface".

CFCs are not essential for aerosols, either. Since the end of the 1970s there has been a dramatic drop in the number of cosmetics and medical products packaged in aerosols.

"Alternative application methods such as roll-one, sticks and other non-spray dispensers for a variety of household and personal care products are well established. Also, alternative propellants such as hydrocarbons and compressed gases, as well as mechanical spray dispensers, are being used in a wide range of products such as gels, creams, disinfectants, hair-spray and lubricants", summarizes Greenpeace. The sole exception, "in which CFCs cannot be completely eliminated on an immediate basis is metered dose inhalers for asthmatic patients. However", the report goes on, "some MDI use can be replaced by the use of dry powder inhalers, nebulizers, mechanical pump sprays and no-inhalant methods".

Refrigeration

In developing countries, reigeration is a major application. Estimates of CFC use for refrigeration in India, for example, vary between 30% and 80%. According to forecasts it is becoming an increasingly important sector, because the number of refrigerating appliances in India could increase from 10 million at present to over 70 million by the year 2010. In a global context, however, CFC consumption for household refrigeration is fairly insignificant: the global average is less than 10 per cent.

In tact, the biggest need for substitutes in this area is in the air conditioning sector, to cool buildings and cars. In 1990, air conditioning accounted for 80% of the CFCs consumed in the refrigeration sector.

Household appliances have nevertheless received a great deal of attention in the media. This is above all due to the fact that Greenpeace, by promoting a completely CFC- and HFC-free refrigerator made by the German firm Foron, has shown that there are alternatives to HFC 134a, which hitherto was the only replacement substance to be propagated by the industry (See "Greenfreeze" box).

In the meantime, after initial reservations, a number of other European manufacturers have switched to this technology. A bilateral agreement between Germany and China on the dissemination of "Greenfreeze" technology in China was signed in Beijing in November 1993.

In car air conditioning systems, HFC 134a and (in the USA) a mixture with an HCFC have proved most popular. Systems using the metallic alumino-silicate zeolite and water are currently being used in pilot applications in this sector. Water vapour is absorbed by a special extraction technique. The ice thus produced can be used for refrigeration. One German manufacturer claims that this process can also be used for block-type cooling power stations.

Dependent on technology transfer

In developing countries, alternative methods are introduced with financial assistance from the ozone fund. In these countries, changing over is much more a question of cost than in the industrialized nations. The additional costs cannot be passed on as higher prices to the same extent as in the North. Moreover, the South is already heavily dependent on the North for technology transfer. India has fared badly in this respect. Its CFC industry is relatively young. As late as 1986, when a ban on CFCs was already in sight, American manufacturers sold CFC manufacturing technology to India. Now it has to be converted. India demands that the technology transfer, e.g. for HFC production, should be free of charge. According to reports in the Indian press, sales of HFCs are by no means assured because due to the high cost manufacturers are reluctant to convert their appliances to HFCs. The substitutes are expensive: even switching to the other alternative, HCFCs, would incur additional costs of 20-30%, and using HFCs is even more expensive.

$3.7 billion cost of phase-out in China and India

In a national plan recently prepared by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, final elimination of CFCs is scheduled for the year 2010. The phase-out will cost $1.64 billion.

The People's Republic of China, in a national plan approved in February 1993, puts the cost of phasing out CFCs at "a minimum" of $1.4 billion. If the cost of converting refrigeration appliances is added to this, the additional costs will amount to $2.1 billion. China intends to apply to the Multilateral Fund for this money, "so as to phase out a potential unconstrained demand of around 320,000 ODP by the year 2010", as the plan puts it.

Consumption of the substitutes HCFC and HFC is planned to rise to 52,900 within the same period. Aerosols are to be phased out by 1997, foams by the year 2000.

However, the national plan emphasizes that the strategy can only be implemented with international assistance. "China is short of the funds and technologies for ODS phaseout".
Statements such as this show that the North cannot rest on its laurels even if it succeeds in achieving the Montreal Protocol phase-out scenario for CFCs and haloes by 1996. In the developing countries alone, the amount of cash needed to mitigate the global environmental disaster that destruction of the ozone layer would represent is immense. Understandably, doubts have already been voiced in those countries about the financing of the fund.

Even after the ban on HCFCs comes into effect in developing countries, in the year 2040, damage to the ozone layer will continue for quite a number of years. No wonder environmental action groups find the time limits permitted by the Montreal Protocol far too long: they demand faster and more comprehensive transfer of existing alternative technologies. "Ozone depletion is perhaps the single most dangerous threat facing humanity", notes Greenpeace. "Even if alternatives did not exist, logic would demand an immediate ban".

GATE Experts' Meeting

Experts disagree on which substitutes for CFCs and which alternative technologies are the most appropriate in the various application sectors. Developing countries in particular stand to benefit by gaining access to the most environmentally compatible and least costly solutions. The Multilateral Fund established in accordance with the Montreal Protocol and, to a much lesser extent, bilateral development cooperation are intended to help them do so. Together with the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GATE is planning a conference on this topic early in 1994 at which the various technological options and the scope for action are to be discussed by experts. We will report on the conference in a future issue of gate.

Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol

The Multilateral Fund (MF) of the Montreal Protocol differs in one key point from other multilateral institutions. Its supreme decision making body i i not dominated by donors from the North; it is made up of equal numbers of representatives from the North and South.

The Fund, which is intended to assist the 88 developing countries - the Article 5 countries - which have now signed the Montreal Protocol, was set up in 1991. It has a small secretariat in Montreal. Its implementing agencies are the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the World Bank.

Almost four-fifths of its funds are allocated to projects via the World Bank. The fund was set up with $240 million for an initial three-year period (1991-1993).

The money is used to finance a portion or the incremental costs which accrue to developing countries as a result of switching to CFC-free technologies in accordance with the Montreal Protocol. The fund makes grants partly on the basis of country programmes with action plans for elimination of ozone depleting substances. "The action plan consists of regulatory measures, priority projects, a timetable and a budget", explains the secretariat. Work has meanwhile started on 44 country programmes, 21 of which have been approved by the Executive Committee. The more than 300 activities in 45 developing countries include 53 investment and demonstration projects in 16 countries, expected to result in elimination of an estimated 31,000 tonnes of ODS annually. Implementation of the projects got off to a sluggish start, admits the Fund secretariat, with the "typical growing pains associated with the start-up of any multinational organization". Contributions were slow to arrive. In fact, the Fund's treasurer only received about $160 million. A further $ 55 million is expectet, but it was not possible to translate it into actual Fund projekts in 1993. At the fifth conference of signatory states in Bangkok in November 1993, this $ 55 million was allocated to the budget for the next three-year period. Thus, together with the new donations of $ 455 million promised in the Thai capital, the Fund will have $ 510 at its disposal between 1994 and 1996.

The projects in the developing countries are only now moving into the implementation phase, a fact which has led some donors to criticize the fund. According to the Executive Committee, the projects that can be financed with $ 510 million can reduce annual ODS consumption by 46,600 tonnes and production by 17,000 tonnes.

In the Fund's project plan, most money (33%) is earmarked for the refrigeration sector, followed by projects in the foams sector (25%) and aid in phasing out CFC production. Despite the high level of investment in these three sectors, reliance on CFCs will remain relatively heavy after 1997: for 50% of foam production and 70% of refrigeration applications. By then, production facilities will have 78% of their present capacity. Altogether, after carrying out the projects, 30% of the ozone depleting substances in the Article 5 countries would be eliminated.

To a far smaller extent, money also reaches projects to protect the ozone layer via bilateral development cooperation. Donors may spend up to 20% of money promised to the Multilateral Fund on bilateral projects. So far, however, only about $2.2 million has found its way to the South by this route, above all from the USA. In the next three years, Germany will exploit this possibility through cooperation agreements with China and possibly other countries as well, e.g. India.

Greenfreeze: Propane and Butane Instead of HFC 134a

"Most German manufacturers are now offering CFC-and HFC-free refrigeration technology". Greenpeace Germany made the good news public in the summer, at the same time stressing that the breakthrough had only been possible with a great deal of staying power, and in the face of defamation and hostility on the part of industry. With its " "Green-freeze" campaign, the environmentalist organization Greenpeace broke new ground, playing the role of promoter for a "green" product. Greenpeace decided to back the refrigeration method - it uses a mixture of propane and butane - which was tested in depth by scientists Harry Rosin and Hans Preisendanz at Dortmund Institute of Hygiene in 1990.

A few months later, Greenpeace commisioned dkk Scharfenstein, a company in the former GDR which was in financial difficulties, to build ter CFC-and HFC-free prototype refrigerators.

The big, established manufacturers rejected the method, and in 1952, in a "voluntary commitment", continued to concentrate exclusively on HFC 134a and HCFCs for refigeration and as foaming agents for insulation. After a short time the company commissioned by Greenpeace had completed the prototypes. An advertising campaign for "Green freeze" was started, and it was not long before 70,000 advance orders were received. In Greenpeace's view, the negative attitude of the big firms resulted in extra publicity for the product.

The high level of acceptance made the competitors think again. Within a very short time they also brought out models that worked on the propane/butane principle; these were presented at a trade fair in February 1993. Greenpeace felt encouraged: "Where there is an ecological will, there will be a technological way", believes Wolfgang Lohheck, the campaign spokesman. The crowning event came in June, when the refrigeration company, meanwhile renamed "Foron", was awarded the German Ecology prize. The technical principle of "Greenfreeze" and the other models is old. Refrigeration is effected with a mixture (20-30 g) of butane and propane. Initial fears about the fire risk of this mixture proved groundless. The German safety standards authority TUV awarded the refrigerator the "tested safety" seal of quality.

One factor that makes the technology especially attractive for consumers in poorer countries is the price. The natural hydrocarbons propane and butane are obtainable without a licence, cost half the price of CFCs and only 10% of the supposed alternative HFC 134a and HCFCs. The refrigerator is insulated with polyurethane foamed from pentane or polystyrene. The advantages of the "Greenfreeze" design make the technology interesting for Asian, Latin American and African countries. The reason is that HFC 134a is by no means an easily manageable refrigeration mixture. It is costly to replace and can only be recycled with expensive high-performance vacuum pumps. Also, synthetic oils are needed which are more expensive than conventionally used lubricants.

"Greenfreeze" has meanwhile been publicized in China and India, the South's two biggest consumers of CFCs. In China, tests with the models made by Bosch/Siemens and Liebherr are being carried out by the Chinese Association for Science and Technology. The results will be made available to all potential users. The German company Liebherr is already cooperating with Chinese market leader Ohinj-doa.

The transfer of "Greenfreze" technology is already being supported by a Technical Cooperation project between Germany and China for which GATE is responsible. A cooperation agreement was signed in Beijing in November 1993.

References

1) ozone Action, UNEP IE/PAC. Quarterly Newsletter. 39-43 Quai Andre Citroen, F-75739 Paris CEDEX 15, France

2) Greenpeace International, Climbing out of the Ozone Hole - A Preliminary Survey of Alternatives to Ozone-Depleting Chemicals. Greenpeace International, Keizersgracht 176, NL1016 Amsterdam. Fax +31 20 5236500.