Is the circular economy of refrigerants a regeneration project?

Is the circular economy of refrigerants a regeneration project?

According to RISE (Research & Innovation for Smart Enterprises), research laboratory of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering of the University of Brescia, the implementation of a regeneration project needs the management of these four essential elements: product, process, technology and supply chain.

Once assessed these elements are present in the project, it is necessary to ascertain that some precise conditions exist in each of them, as in their absence we will not be entitled to affirming we are dealing with a regeneration project.

I would like to remind you that our circular economy project of refrigerants, provides for:

  • The equipment recovery and the selective stocking up, by certified technicians;
  • The collection, regeneration and successive distribution to both industry (for the factory loading of new units) and to certified technicians (for the maintenance and repair of existing products), by chemical companies.

We use RISE scheme to analyse and to validate it.

Product | the project must assure that the resulting material is “as-good-as-new” in terms of performances, characteristics and quality. In the case of refrigerants, all conditions are respected and proven by laboratory tests and by the certificate of the chemical company that carries out the regeneration.

Process | for the project success, the process used must not be disrupted but integrated by introducing (few) phases, upstream or downstream the existing process. Today, certified technicians already recover the refrigerant from appliances, especially from medium-high power ones, such as refrigerating groups and VRF systems. To start a real circular transition, we must redesign the recovery phase (today insufficient) and create appliance manufacturers’ demand, currently insignificant or even inexistant.

Technology| both the recovery equipment and the refrigerant regeneration technology are widely available.

Supply chain | emphasis must be shifted to the supply chain, to assure the control on the whole provisioning and distribution chain. The project success is almost totally connected with the capability of implementing an efficient and economically sustainable supply chain. If it is so important, we should wonder whether we have all elements to redesign our supply chain at disposal.

Before answering the question, it is necessary to describe the context inside of which we should make our project work.

The market is the place where buyers (demand) and sellers (offer) meet and, mutually interacting, define the price of goods. The current market of refrigerants is based, almost totally, on the sale of virgin refrigerant (HFC) but, since January 1th 2015, with the introduction of the regulation for the “phase down” of HFC, the price has not been established on the market but it has been significantly influenced by the constant decrease of the available share. On January 1st 2021, the share dropped to 45% of what available when the regulation came into force. The price of the refrigerant most used in conditioning (R410A) is today about 3 times the one in 2015, according to the quarterly surveys carried out by Öko-Recherche.

What will be the price in 2030, when the available percentage will be just 21%? Nobody knows.

However, we know two very important things:

  • The “phase down” system is devised to obtain a progressive rise of prices and the Commission considers as desirable also prices in the order of 50 Euros/TonCO2eq.
  • In some EU Countries, additional taxes on HFC are a reality. Since 2013, in Spain the IGFEI (Impuesto sobre Gases Fluorados de Efecto Invernadero) has been in force, applied in reduced measure (50%) to regenerated refrigerants, whereas France has decided postponing it to 2022.

How designing an efficient and economically sustainable supply chain, in this context, will be the theme of next chapter.