HCFC, CFC, PFC, HFC – what does it mean?

When looking for information concerning air emissions you probably came across the abbreviations HCFC, CFC, PFC and HFC referred as air pollutant. These combinations of H-s, C-s and F-s create confusion even for experts of environmental statistics. So lets look what is behind of these letters.

All of these abbreviations refer to human made substances mainly used in different kinds of refrigerators and air conditioners. By their chemical compositions all of them are hydrocarbons containing at least one fluorine atom.  But there’s also a significant difference between these compounds and due to that their air emissions are classified under different environmental problems.

HCFC is abbreviation for chlorofluorohydrocarbons, hydrocarbons that in addition to fluorine atom contains at least one chlorine atom.

CFC is abbreviation for special case of chlorofluorohydrocarbons (named as perchlorofluorocarbons), in which all hydrogen atoms are substituted with chlorine and fluorine.

These substances are more widely known as freons. (the brand name of DuPont company). Sometime CFCs are called first class freons (freon-1) and HCFC is named a second class freon (freon-2).

It has been identified that due to content of chlorine atom in their molecule, CFC and HCFC cause the depletion of ozone layer. They are classified under so called ozone depleting substances and their use is internationally regulated by Montreal Protocol. Air emissions of CFC and HCFC used to be classified under environmental domain called “Depleting of ozone layer”.  Up to now usage of CFC and HCFC in Europe is banned and you can’t find this domain on Eurostat web page any more. You can however get the information from some older publication.

HFC is abbreviation for flourohydrocarbons – hydrocarbons containing at least one fluorine atom, but not containing chlorine atoms in their molecule.

PFC refers to special case of fluorinated hydrocarbons with maximum possible content of fluorine (perfluorocarbons). Usually they are named F-gases. As F-gases contain no chlorine, they are safe for ozone layer. So they are used as substitutes to the freons. Unfortunately F-gases have very high global warming potential; in other words, F-gases turned out to be a very powerful greenhouse gases. Air emissions of HFC and PFC are indicated under environmental domain named “Climate change”.  In order to be physically correct, it must be mentioned, that CFC and HCFC also contains fluorine and cause greenhouse effect, but as they are already counted under ozone depleting substances, their emissions are not included to F-gases.

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