We all know the urgency and the need of recovering and recycling fluorinated refrigerants with high GWP because this is the only way to go on using them, despite the phase down. The refrigerants recovered from plants, in fact, recycled or regenerated and made recirculate, are not included in the calculation of shares and allow go on maintaining the plants that still use them, until their life end. We are speaking, in particular, of R410A, R404A and R134a, that is to say those refrigerants whose cost has boomed but anyway, in a short time, they will be no longer available as virgin product on the market, even paying them by weight of gold. Moreover, they are the same refrigerants concerned by a noteworthy illegal trade.
For a long time now, the need has emerged of creating a circular economy for the recovery, recycling and redistribution of such refrigerants but until now the cases in which this was implemented are not many and, especially, they do not involve significantly that very broad range of small and medium installation and maintenance companies that are daily in contact with conditioning units. Such enterprises must recover from the latter some refrigerant but at the same time they are the least boosted to its correct recovery, owing to logistic, time and cost reasons, as well as missing incentives, so that the recovery and the delivery to recycling centres can be difficult indeed for them.
Because of all these reasons, one of the main targets of LIFE 3R European Project was precisely the creation of a modality to intercept also this public and to incentivize anyone to a correct refrigerant recovery. So, it was born the online RETRADEABLES trade platform that – as explains Nikolaos Barmparitsas from Daikin Europe and project partner – «adopts the Amazon or e-bay model and transports it in the world of the refrigerant recovery».
How does the platform work?
To understand how the platform operates, we follow what might be a transaction accomplished online on RETRADEABLES. At the beginning of each transaction, there is generally an installer who recovers some refrigerant from a conditioning plant and puts it in a cylinder. He attributes a univocal QR code to this cylinder, received directly from RETRADEABLES at the time of the registration on the platform. Each quantity of refrigerant recovered is then identified by its own QR code. Through a specific app, the installer can put up for sale that refrigerant on the platform, indicating its quantity, quality and required price. Distributors or refrigerant recycling/reclaiming companies can gain access to the platform, too, and they can so purchase the refrigerant put up for sale, accepting the demanded price or proposing others. Depending on the offers he receives, the installer will decide to whom selling the recovered material. The platform allows also paying securely through a bank payment service associated with it. On the contrary, logistics organization is not provided for and remains at interested parties’ charge. «The aim of the platform is making demand and offer meet. The execution of logistics is currently at the charge of the Parties interested in the transaction. We do not exclude, in the future, to develop also a logistic part inside the platform» Nikolaos Barmparitsas explains.
How deciding the sale cost of the refrigerant?
First of all, the cost depends on the refrigerant quality. The platform proposes three quality classes:
• class A: the refrigerant was recovered correctly, it was not mixed with other refrigerants or oils and it needs just a mild cleaning;
• class B: the refrigerant needs more cleaning and must be recalibrated, which diminishes the sale price;
• class C: the refrigerant is no longer usable and will be destroyed.
Concerning the A and B class, sale prices are proposed according to the listing on the market of the refrigerant in question. As already said, such prices are indicative but the installer freely decides at what price offering his products. The matter is different for the class C. Being a waste, it must be properly disposed and this implies some costs for those who collect the refrigerant. The installer, therefore, will not demand for any payment but he in person will pay for the refrigerant collection. The platform generally proposes a price to be paid that should be anyway appealing for both parties – seller and buyer – to close the circle for this product typology, too. «We all should pursue the circular economy direction and according to this vision the proposed model makes sense: you sell what can be used, you pay to dispose it properly».
Therefore, in any case with this modality the installer is encouraged to recover the refrigerant and to do that in the best possible way to preserve its quality and to try selling it at a higher price. If a product destruction is needed, too, the platform acts as a facilitator to make interested parties meet. The National Technical University of Athens, Project partner, is drawing up some information materials about the best recovery praxes. These materials will be made available for platform users.
Since the activity required to load the refrigerant online is neither complex nor excessive but the gain is certain, the system is boosting also for small refrigerant quantities and for small installers.
Who can enrol in the platform and then take part in this online trade?
Only people with the necessary authorizations to deal with F-gases can be members of this platform. At the registration time, all necessary credentials are required to assure that these authorizations exist and those who enrol are an entity legally recognized in the appurtenance Country. At present (June 2021) the platform is available for the Hungarian, Slovak and Czech market. A roll-out in more European Countries is under scheduling.
How assuring the quality of the product offered?
The product quality is generally checked by distributors or by buyers in appropriate laboratories with adequate tests. The resulting certificate is loaded on the platform in the place of transaction between the two Parties. In case of disagreement between the Parties on test results, the laboratories of the University project partner intervene to settle the eventual dispute with a further quality control. The quality of the offered refrigerant is important because it notably influences the value of the offered product. Depending on the refrigerant, for instance, the price of a certain quantity in class A can be even double of the same quantity in class B. The control is generally at the buyer’s charge and, being in most cases a distributor, he is supposed to rely on the structures to carry out tests. The control occurs before the payment and the final price is defined according to the real product quality.
Waste or non-waste? This is the question!
One of the problems to be faced when we are dealing with recovered refrigerants are wastes. In some European Countries, the refrigerant recovered from the plant is automatically declared as waste, in some cases as dangerous waste and, as such, it cannot, then, be marketed, neither on the platform. «This is one of the reasons for which we have decided starting with the pilot project in Slovakia, for instance. Here, in fact, the legislation affirms that a waste is such only if declared as such, and not automatically. In this case, naturally, it is therefore possible to declare the refrigerant as material to be recycled that can be easily marketed». This particular case highlights the contradiction sometimes existing between environmental targets and (old) national legislations, where the latter do not provide for environmental practices of recent introduction and hinder their successful diffusion. Unfortunately, the refrigerant world knows various similar cases. «The Commission knows and is aware of these problems and, through the LIFE 3R project, they are also trying eliminating gradually these contradictions, to be able to extend the use of such platform to other European nations, too». This is the only obstacle, in fact, to its wider affirmation because «the platform in itself is ready to be localized and activated in any language and Country of EU» Nikolaos Barmparitsas states.
Work in Progress
As briefly said, the platform is not accessible to the public, yet. They are testing it on a small group of selected users, in three pilot Countries – Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. As Barmparitsas explains, these nations have been chosen not only due to their legislative situation about the refrigerants recovered from plants but also because they rely on a sound associative structure of installers that support the platform affirmation and “refinishing” tests. What must be still perfected? «We must be sure, for instance, that only and exclusively legal refrigerant, recovered from plants, is put on trade on the platform and that there are no “infiltrations” of materials of unknown, or even illegal, origin. Concerning this, we are perfecting a traceability system that allows identifying the refrigerant movement from the unit where it is recovered until recycling. Moreover, current users have submitted demands for activating also the resale service of the material reclaimed or recycled, and we are working at that, too. This function would certainly make the platform more complete, really closing the circle of the recycled refrigerant».
What is the target we want to hit? «Ideally, we would like to open the platform to all interested users and in the biggest possible number of member States. The LIFE 3R project ends in 2023 but we will continue our platform and, furthermore, we see the trade of refrigerants just as a starting point. We cannot exclude that in the future, through a similar system, we will be able to release on the market also other materials recovered from plants, such as for instance copper tubes and so on. Everything according to the circular economy vision» Barmparitsas affirms.