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A 100 billion tonne opportunity

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has released a report highlighting the enormous refrigerant bank worldwide, and environmental benefits of managing it properly.

Search, Reuse and Destroy describes a range of measures to manage the global refrigerant bank, particularly the ozone depleting substances (ODS) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) contained in existing equipment, chemical stockpiles, foams and other products.

The report presents policy options and specific recommendations for actions by stakeholders at all levels including individuals, the private sector, cities, states and provinces, nations, and globally.

“Preventing emissions of fluorinated refrigerants such as HFCs from ‘F-gas banks’ is the single biggest near-term strategy to reduce greenhouse gases,” says the EIA.

“End-of-life emissions of refrigerants from retired equipment avoidable in the US are estimated to be 75-80 million metric tons of CO2e annually, equivalent to emissions from 16 million cars. Leaks are another major source of refrigerant emissions with an average supermarket refrigeration system leaking 25 per cent of its total refrigerant charge annually, equivalent to 1,780 metric tons of CO2e, or emissions of nearly 400 passenger cars annually.”

The report recommends addressing refrigerant emissions through policies aimed at scaling up refrigerant management, recovery, reclamation, and destruction.

Australia is performing well in this area, thanks largely to the work of Refrigerant Reclaim Australia (RRA). General Manager Kylie Farrelley notes that we are already doing a number of things suggested in the report.

“Australia does do many things right, in fact the RRA program has won international awards and is considered world best by AHRI and EIA,” she says.

“However, there is still room for improvement. The Australian system could be enhanced by implementing end user responsibility and more effective end-of-life management, particularly for consumer durables and motor vehicles.”

The EIA proposes a “central database” for large users, distributors and wholesalers to enter information about the refrigerants they use. But Farrelley says this would be difficult in Australia.

“Australia has a fundamental disconnect in the regulatory framework when it comes end-user responsibility with regards to proper maintenance and end-of-life obligations. Regular maintenance of installed equipment was a common recommendation under the recent Ozone Protection and Greenhouse Gas Management Act review. Discussion with the Department of Environment and Energy are ongoing on this subject.”

Australia is phasing down HFCs, albeit with modest targets compared to other jurisdictions. Here, refrigerants imported in pre-charged equipment are not included in national totals. Europe, meanwhile, does include pre-charged equipment; and from 2020, HFCs with a GWP of more than 2,500 will be banned in stationary refrigeration equipment.

“To reduce future demand for high-GWP products, the first step is to ban equipment operating or designed to operate on such refrigerants,” says Farrelley. “This method has proven successful in the past in reducing demand for ozone depleting refrigerants such as R22.”

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