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Our Takeaways from the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel’s Report on Lifecycle Refrigerant Management

July 05, 2024

In May, the Montreal Protocol’s Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) published its first report on lifecycle refrigerant management (LRM), creating one of the most comprehensive overviews of LRM to date. At the 35th Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol, Parties — following a motion from the Federated States of Micronesia and Samoa — took significant strides towards a unified Montreal Protocol LRM strategy that can aid treaty compliance, including by requesting this landmark report by the TEAP. In a critical decade for both the ozone layer and climate, LRM can ensure that the Montreal Protocol, which has traditionally focused on upstream control on production and consumption, continues its planet-saving legacy by addressing emissions from use and end-of-life.

Below, we’ve summarized the key barriers to widespread LRM as presented in the Report:

  1. LRM has significant potential to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and ozone-depleting substances (ODS).

  2. Developing (“Article 5” or “A5”) Parties are expected to be the dominant source of refrigerant emissions in the future but have the least capacity to manage them.

  3. LRM could benefit from technological innovation.

  4. Comprehensive and ongoing training for technicians is critical for effective LRM.

  5. Projects implementing LRM suffer from a financing gap.

  6. Despite TEAP’s research, there are still gaps in our understanding of LRM.

1. Lifecycle Refrigerant Management has significant emissions reduction potential.

Between 2025 and 2050, the implementation of leak reduction and refrigerant recovery best practices globally could prevent 39 gigatonnes CO2e – equivalent to a year’s worth of global energy sector emissions. The Task Force models emissions reductions coming from two sources: 1) reduced leaks (15.6 GtCO2e), and 2) better end-of-life refrigerant recovery (23.4 GtCO2e) (Chapter 8, pages 114 – 115).

However, the Task Force modeled emissions reductions over a 100-year time horizon despite HFCs and some ODS having short atmospheric lifetimes. This means that LRM’s near-term climate benefits may be undervalued. HFCs, which are the bulk of gases modeled, have on average 2.3 times the potency over 20 years as compared to 100 years.

2. Banks of HFCs are growing, especially in the Article 5 Parties, where tools and infrastructure to manage them are lacking.

Historically, the bank of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and HFCs that reside in equipment and storage facilities has been concentrated in developed parties. But by 2030, such banks of HFCs are expected to shift toward developing Article 5 (A5) parties. This shift arises from several characteristics of A5 parties, including later phasedown schedules, rising incomes, and high ambient temperatures (Chapter 8, pages 110 – 113).

Meanwhile, A5 parties typically have the least developed tools and infrastructure to manage refrigerants (Chapter 3, Chapter 4), and often face logistical and legal barriers under the Basel Convention to exporting recovered refrigerant for responsible handling (Chapter 6, page 69). Deploying tools, expanding capacity, and providing financing for LRM projects in these parties will be critical to executing LRM globally.

3. LRM could benefit from technological innovation.

Tools to implement LRM are already widely available on the market but still could benefit from technological improvements. Refrigerant recovery machines, for example, operate too slowly to make recovery economical for most refrigerant technicians (Chapter 6, pages 72 – 73). Destruction technologies also tend to be immobile, emissive, and/or expensive – elevating costs and logistical complexity for mitigation (Chapter 3, page 27). Reclaiming more complicated chemicals such as HFC blends will also require more sophisticated reclamation technology. Many of these technologies have not experienced efficiency improvements at the same rate or scale as other climate mitigation tools.

Software will also be a critical component of LRM moving forward. Currently, governments and private companies don’t have the capabilities to track refrigerants precisely along their chain of custody, from factories and ports to technicians and equipment (Chapter 3, page 21). Lack of data and tracking for refrigerant has led to difficulty in enforcing regulations and poor insight into where and how refrigerant emissions (and mitigation activities) are occurring.

4. There is a need for comprehensive and ongoing technician training for effective LRM.

Appropriate technician training underpins effective LRM. Technicians should be equipped with up-to-date skills to detect and repair leaks and recover refrigerants (Chapter 6.5). Technicians should also possess knowledge about the environmental and safety implications of their activities, including the importance of recovering refrigerant at equipment end-of-life and staying in compliance.

Currently, the informal technician sector – accounting for tens of thousands of practicing technicians across the globe – creates challenges for LRM implementation. These technicians may not receive formal education or certification, potentially affecting the penetration of servicing best practices (Chapter 6.5, 6.6). The informal sector tends to be most significant in A5 parties.

5. Projects implementing LRM suffer from a financing gap.

The report identifies a large and urgent need for financing for LRM projects, particularly in A5 parties. Previously, LRM projects have failed to achieve sustainable business models, in large part due to costs associated with refrigerant recovery and dearth of end markets for recovered gases (Chapter 6, page 67). These costs are discussed in detail in Chapter 6 (pages 74 – 84).

Refrigerant recovery is challenging in most A5 and non-A5 parties, even with regulations prohibiting refrigerant venting. One area lacking financial support is the availability of the necessary recovery equipment and reverse supply chain infrastructure (such as cylinder fleets, storage facilities, and safe shipping capability). Such equipment is particularly insufficient in A5 parties, which heavily rely on external funding from the Multilateral Fund.

The TEAP discusses a wide range of possible financing mechanisms for LRM, including carbon markets, extended producer responsibility, and the Multilateral Fund (Chapter 7).

6. Still, some major questions about LRM remain unanswered.

Exact details concerning LRM implementation – such as the costs of procuring refrigerant recovery equipment and other tools – aren’t clear for all geographies. Thus, the report does not produce estimates for the marginal cost of abating HFCs and ODS, which is an important figure in determining the cost-effectiveness of mitigation activities. The Task Force attempted to create a broad survey of parties and their respective states of LRM implementation but could not investigate country-specific challenges or data.

The TEAP and the Task Force – at the request of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol – can continue investigating these questions in future iterations of the report.

Note: CC Lab’s Tilden Chao currently serves as a member of TEAP’s Task Force on Lifecycle Refrigerant Management in his independent, individual capacity. Views expressed here are those of the Carbon Containment Lab, not necessarily of the TEAP Task Force and its members.

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