SPARC Report on the Mystery of Carbon Tetrachloride

Publication Type:

Journal Article


SPARC Report No. 7, Volume WCRP-13/2016, p.67 pp. (2016)



The Montreal Protocol (MP) controls the production and consumption of carbon tetrachloride (CCl4 or CTC) and other ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) for emissive uses. CCl4 is a major ODS, accounting for about 12% of the globally averaged inorganic chlorine and bromine in the stratosphere, compared to 14% for CFC-12 in 2012.

In spite of the MP controls, there are large ongoing emissions of CCl4 into the atmosphere. Estimates of emissions from various techniques ought to yield similar numbers. However, the recent WMO/UNEP Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion [WMO, 2014] estimated a 2007-2012 CCl4 bottom-up emission of 1-4 Gg/year (1-4 kilotonnes/year), based on country-by-country reports to UNEP, and a global top-down emissions estimate of 57 Gg/year, based on atmospheric measurements. This 54 Gg/year difference has not been explained. In order to assess the current knowledge on global CCl4 sources and sinks, stakeholders from industrial, governmental, and the scientific communities came together at the “Solving the Mystery of Carbon Tetrachloride” workshop, which was held from 4-6 October 2015 at Empa in Dübendorf, Switzerland. During this workshop, several new findings were brought forward by the participants on CCl4 emissions and related science.

These new CCl4 emissions estimates from the workshop make considerable progress toward closing the emissions discrepancy. The new industrial bottom-up emissions estimate (15 Gg/year total) includes emissions from chloromethanes plants (13 Gg/year) and feedstock fugitive emissions (2 Gg/year). When combined with legacy emissions and unreported inadvertent emissions, this could be up to 25 Gg/year. Top-down emissions estimates are: global 40 (25-55) Gg/year, gradient 30 (25-35) Gg/year, and regional 21 (14-28) Gg/year. While the new bottom-up value is still less than the aggregated top-down values, these estimates reconcile the CCl4 budget discrepancy when considered at the edges of their uncertainties.

  • Anthropogenic production and consumption for feedstock and process agent uses (e.g., as approved solvents) are reported to UNEP under the MP. Based on these numbers, global bottom-up emissions of 3 (0-8) Gg/year are estimated for 2007-2013 in this report. This number is also reasonably consistent with this report’s new industry-based bottom-up estimate for fugitive emissions of 2 Gg/year.
  • By-product emissions from chloromethanes and perchloroethylene plants are newly proposed in this report as significant CCl4 sources, with global emissions estimated from these plants to be 13 Gg/year in 2014.
  • This report updates the anthropogenic CCl4 emissions estimation as a maximum of ~25 Gg/year. This number is derived by combining the above fugitive and by-product emissions (2 Gg/year and 13 Gg/year, respectively) with 10 Gg/year from legacy emissions plus potential unreported inadvertent emissions from other sources.
  • Ongoing atmospheric CCl4 measurements within global networks have been exploited for assessing regional emissions. In addition to existing emissions estimates from China and Australia, the workshop prompted research on emissions in the U.S. and Europe. The sum of these four regional emissions is estimated as 21±7.5 Gg/year, but this is not a complete global accounting. These regional top-down emissions estimates also show that most of the CCl4 emissions originate from chemical industrial regions, and are not linked to major population centres.
  • The total CCl4 lifetime is critical for calculating top-down global emissions. CCl4 is destroyed in the stratosphere, oceans, and soils, complicating the total lifetime estimate. The atmospheric lifetime with respect to stratospheric loss was recently revised to 44 (36-58) years, and remains unchanged in this report. New findings from additional measurement campaigns and reanalysis of physical parameters lead to changes in the ocean lifetime from 94 years to 210 (157-313) years, and in the soil lifetime from 195 years to 375 (288-536) years.
  • These revised lifetimes lead to an increase of the total lifetime from 26 years in WMO [2014] to 33 (28-41) years. Consequently, CCl4 is lost at a slower rate from the atmosphere. With this new total lifetime, the global top-down emissions calculation decreases from 57 (40-74) Gg/year in WMO [2014] to 40 (25-55) Gg/year. This estimate is relatively consistent with the independent gradient top-down emissions of 30 (25-35) Gg/year, based upon differences between atmospheric measurements of CCl4 in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. In addition, this new total lifetime implies an upper limit of 3-4 Gg/year of natural emissions, based upon newly reported observations of old air in firn snow.