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SPOTLIGHT ON REFRIGERANT RECOVERY, RECLAMATION AND DESTRUCTION

11 November 2020

Avoiding refrigerant emissions and reusing refrigerant, where practical, contributes to the circular economy. Most re-use activity occurs when refrigerant is recycled locally by the servicing engineers, using equipment that provides basic cleaning and refrigerant identification. Reclamation returns product to match that of virgin refrigerant requirements. Research into using waste refrigerants to produce useful materials is also being undertaken. Destruction, depending on the technology employed can produce useful raw materials, for example hydrogen fluoride, and, where this is not possible, emissions are still avoided. Efficient use of recycling and reclamation helps ensure that HFCs are available as the F-gas phase-down progresses. A recent article in Cooling Post explains the importance of recovery and reclamation.

According to the EEA Fluorinated greenhouse gases 2019 Report “Reclaimed HFCs now make up 9 % of the produced amount, or 3 % of the EU supply of virgin HFCs (or 13 % and 4 %, respectively, as CO2e).” It is expected that this will increase in the future contributing to the circular economy.

Use of Reclaimed R-410A expanded to complete range of new Air-conditioning Systems: Launched in 2019, a European VRV air-conditioner equipment manufacturer has expanded the use of reclaimed R-410A to its complete range of new VRV units from November 2020, and the scheme covers more European countries including all EU Member States. The initiative uses an estimated 250 tonnes of reclaimed R-410A annually, contributing to the circular economy and the availability of HFCs, as they do not count against the F-gas Regulation quota under the HFC phased-down. Refrigerant from existing systems is recovered through its installer network, and is then reclaimed to virgin quality, which is independently certified that it meets quality standards. The reclaimed refrigerant is then allocated to new VRV systems manufactured and sold across Europe. Sources Cooling Post and manufacturer’s information

Pretreatment of waste polystyrene to remove HCFCs and CFCs to allow polystyrene recycling. PolyStyreneLoop is an initiative by the entire polystyrene foam value chain bringing together over 70 members and supporters across 18 EU countries. Together we recycle polystyrene foam demolition waste, namely expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS). PolyStyreneLoop has developed a pre-treatment step which allows the safe release and capture the (H)CFCs from XPS. The pre-treatment step has proven to exceed the 95% removal efficiency for (H)CFCs stipulated by the Montreal Protocol. After the pre-treatment, XPS material can then be recycled. A solvent-based purification technology allows the isolation of the brominated flame retardant (used until 2016) from the polystyrene. Over 99% of the polystyrene is thereby recycled. See https://polystyreneloop.eu/ and the PolyStyreneLoop stake-holder feedback to the F-gas review at https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12479-Fluorinated-greenhouse-gases-review-of-EU-rules-2015-20-/feedback?p_id=8145899

Separating HFC mixtures and transforming high GWP components into useful products: A new 4 year research project based at the University of Kansas School of Engineering, will develop technology to separate and recycle HFC refrigerant mixtures. It will look at how to separate hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant mixtures so the low-global-warming potential (GWP) components can be re-used and the high-GWP components converted into new products that are safe for the environment. R-410A is part of the project as it is very difficult to separate into HFC-125 and lower GWP HFC-32. A goal is to be able to separate those two refrigerants back into their pure components and be able to reuse HFC-32 in new low-GWP products, and the project is working on converting HFC-125 into a lower global warming potential product that is safer for the environment. The project involves 4 universities, private corporations, national laboratories, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). Further information is available here.

Transforming waste HFCs: Research initiatives are exploring methods to transform waste HFCs into useful substances. HFC-23, a by-product from the production of HCFC-22, is currently either destroyed or used as a feedstock to manufacture other substances in particular the pesticide fipronil. A recent paper explored the potential environmental and economic benefit in the use of trifluoromethane (HFC-23) as a feedstock gas for the synthesis of a valuable difluoromethyl (CF2H- ) building block, by developing a process to transform the C–F bond into a reactive C–Si bond. According to the paper, in the pharmaceutical industry, fluorine substitution is commonly used to improve drug efficiency and quality by enhancing the metabolic stability and overall bioavailability of a drug. There is a particular growing interest in the use of the difluoromethyl (CF2H- ) group in drug design.