Minimizing refrigerant leaks and maximizing end-of-life recovery and reclamation can avoid global f-gas emissions equivalent of more than 90 billion metric tons of CO2e this century – equal to nearly three full years of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions today. 

That is the conclusion of a new report released by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD), and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 

The report, “The 90 Billion Ton Opportunity: Lifecycle Refrigerant Management,” describes an approach to avoiding f-gas emissions, called  Lifecycle Refrigerant Management (LRM), through practices like leak prevention and capturing and reusing refrigerants at end of equipment life. It is directed at chemical producers, equipment manufacturers, federal and state policymakers, major corporations, and maintenance professionals.

“We humans have manufactured these potent pollutants that are being needlessly released when we have both the know-how and a huge value proposition for industry and the public to capture them,” said Christina Starr, Senior Policy Analyst from the Environmental Investigation Agency, and a co-author of the report. “The science clearly tells us we need faster and deeper HFC emission reductions to avoid dangerous climate tipping points and remain below 1.5°C of warming, and this is a very real opportunity to get them.”

LRM “provides clear and tangible interventions that can prevent the release of billions of tons of CO2e emissions across the refrigerant value chain to help us stave off the worst impacts of climate change,” added Christina Theodoridi, Industrial Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council and co-author of the report. 

While the world moves to natural refrigerant-based technologies, a “huge and still-growing legacy of old, climate- and ozone-damaging gases continues to amass in nearly every nook and cranny of the world,” says a statement issued by the report’s authors. “The report outlines ways to get those fluorocarbon gases back into tanks and properly reused or disposed of.”

The report notes that In the U.S., the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act – the legislation that phases down HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years – contains new provisions yet to be implemented regarding refrigerant reclamation. 

“The AIM Act grants EPA the authority to minimize leaks and maximize recovery, reclaim, and destruction,said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. 

The AIM Act is based on the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol; the U.S. recently ratified the Amendment. Next week, the 34th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (MOP 34) is scheduled to convene from October 31 to 4 November 4 in Montreal, Canada.

Six pillars

The report identifies six “pillars” to LRM:

  • Enhance product stewardship: Government or private entities should set up programs to help increase the responsibility of chemical producers and equipment manufacturers to provide for economically and technically feasible LRM.
  •  Increase refrigerant recovery, reclamation and reuse: Emphasis must be placed on making recovery of old refrigerant at end of life economical and enforceable.
  •  Leak reduction: Targeting low refrigerant leak rates is an extremely high priority for LRM because this can lead to large climate benefits at low cost.
  •  Reporting and enforcement:  A lack of enforcement leads to improper LRM practices in the field, including violations of existing law regarding refrigerant management.
  •  Workforce development: A well-trained, specialized workforce is the bedrock of LRM. Technicians that handle refrigerants should be recertified by the U.S. EPA based on the latest standards of practice, with ongoing learning and development opportunities.
  •  Installation and servicing: Installation is the starting point of HVACR equipment’s life, and LRM cannot be achieved without proper installation and verification.

“We humans have manufactured these potent pollutants that are being needlessly released when we have both the know-how and a huge value proposition for industry and the public to capture them.”

Christina Starr, Environmental Investigation Agency

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