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project

Lifecycle Refrigerant Management

As climate change worsens, the globe will increasingly rely on air conditioning to cope with extreme heat. Between now and 2050, approximately 10 air conditioners will be sold every second

Cooling in a warming world poses a dual mandate: first, to ensure access to affordable cooling; and second, to reduce climate impacts from cooling equipment by improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions of highly potent refrigerant gases such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Most of our work involves improving the lifecycle refrigerant management (LRM) of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and HFCs. The latter is among the fastest-growing greenhouse gases by emission in the world. LRM calls for a cross-cutting set of actions to reduce refrigerant emissions, such as leak detection and repair, refrigerant recovery and abatement, and sustainable procurement. We have keen interest on utilizing financing mechanisms such as the voluntary and compliance carbon markets, the Montreal Protocol Multilateral Fund, and Article 6 of the Paris Agreement to scale refrigerant recovery and abatement activities, particularly in developing countries. We also have a policy advocacy strategy that aims to implement, defend, and improve policies that phase down and mitigate HFCs. 

We also work with industry, government, and NGOs to harmonize refrigerant management and energy efficiency efforts, with the goal of maximizing the climate benefits of domestic and international environmental policies. 

Refrigerants Timeline

The CC Lab is exploring opportunities to incentivize and coordinate recovery of refrigerant gases such as HFCs, and to destroy or reclaim these gases. We are investigating recovery and abatement opportunities in markets with high demand for cooling, such as Southeast Asia.

investigation

Build relationships with project developers, policymakers, and NGOs

investigation

Research major registry standards and international best practices

implementation

Leverage CC Lab resources to scale up refrigerant recovery and destruction internationally

implementation

Encourage lifecycle refrigerant management best practices and broader adoption of low-GWP alternative refrigerants

implementation

Support the expansion of refrigerant recovery and abatement infrastructure in developing countries
Currently

Key International Agreements

The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol develops the roadmap to phase down production and consumption of HFCs internationally. But even with full implementation of the Kigali Amendment, close to 70 gigatons of CO2e of ODS and HFCs will enter the market between today and 2100. This future refrigerant consumption, in addition with the 24 gigatons of CO2e of refrigerants already in existence, comprise the "installed refrigerant bank." Our team actively participates in Montreal Protocol meetings, which assemble global stakeholders around issues of ozone and climate protection.

Locking Up the Refrigerant Bank

Our objective is to keep the installed refrigerant bank safe and locked. We support and develop strategies to improve refrigerant recovery rates from existing equipment, and to destroy that refrigerant such that it never reaches the atmosphere. We also support companies in bringing equipment using climate-friendly cooling technology to market and leverage resources and technical expertise to develop models to better manage refrigerants on institutional campuses. 

Highlights from Our Work
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Tilden Chao (Analyst) in Jakarta conducting field research on the mobile air conditioning sector.
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Charlie Mayhew (Analyst, right) and Anastasia O'Rourke (Managing Director, center) discussing refrigerant management best practices at a policy workshop in March 2023.
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An air conditioner scrapyard in Singapore, 2023.
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The CC Lab presenting at a lifecycle refrigerant management workshop at Yale's Kroon Hall in March 2023.
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Tilden Chao (Analyst, left) and Charlie Mayhew (Analyst, right) presenting about carbon market financing for refrigerant management projects in Thailand at the United Nations Montreal Protocol's 45th OEWG.

Project Considerations

Technology readiness

Equipment to safely recover and destroy refrigerant gases has existed for decades, but isn't always easily used in practice in the developing world. Furthermore, the cooling industry lags behind other industries in its use of data and software to understand consumer behavior, to track product use and emissions, and to coordinate incentives.

Market and reputation challenges

Illegal HFC destruction scandals have made some buyers skittish about purchasing HFC destruction-related credits. Although this illegal activity was materially different from the recovery and destruction model that we propose, we must work to rebuild confidence in the robustness of HFC-related projects. 

Execution and implementation

Scaling refrigerant recovery and destruction requires an extensive network of refrigerant technicians to collect refrigerant gases from end-of-life equipment. Historically, project developers have struggled to boost recovery volumes, despite offering cash incentives to technicians. Technicians may also not have appropriate equipment to recover refrigerant, even in the presence of adequate financial incentives.

Methodology and verification

Today, there are no methodologies on major registries that approve projects that recover and destroy HFCs. Although updates enabling these projects are in the pipeline, the timeline for methodology finalization is unclear. 

Furthermore, on newer carbon trading platforms such as the Paris Agreement's Article 6.2, there are few safeguards to ensure uptake of high-quality methodologies. In the absence of methodology referees on Article 6.2, low-quality credits could flood the market.

Pricing and revenues

Refrigerant recovery and abatement isn't happening in large part because no one is paying enough for it. We believe that the market currently undervalues refrigerant destruction credits. These credits have exceptionally strong additionality and permanence, and have additional climate benefit because some ODS and most HFCs are short-lived climate pollutants. Buyers’ knowledge deficit about the climate importance of refrigerants may limit the growth of the market.

Regulatory risk

Domestic carbon market regulations are rapidly emerging in developing countries that would be targets for refrigerant recovery and destruction projects. These regulations could complicate the ability to generate and sell carbon credits to international buyers, but could also facilitate project finance and create safeguards for credit quality.

Publications