jws
In the US at least, any refrigeration technician should already have passed his EPA 608 or 609 and be fully aware that venting a unit can cost him his card rendering him unable to buy refrigerants. Before working on all but small self contained units he must have access to a refrigerant recovery unit. This a compressor sort of thing that can move the gas from the installed unit into a tank for either reuse on site or taking to a reclamation center, where allegedly they can be paid for it.

(Yes, my AC units broke and the time to even get a technician to look at them, was so long I researched how to diagnose them and do the easy fixes, ran into the EPA requirement, studied the material and got my EPA certification, bought a bunch of gear off Amazon and refrigerant from a “good old boy” at an exorbitant price (global shortage, plus most is sold in palette quantities), and fixed my own unit in half the time it would have taken to get an appointment with a professional company. The first unit is working. If I succeed at the second unit I’ll even be money ahead. Of course if my yak had already been shaved maybe it could have tolerated the heat.)

photochemsyn
The problematic refrigerants are pretty diverse, being made up of short carbon chains (1-4 atoms typically) decorated mainly with chlorine or flourine atoms. For example:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2,3,3,3-Tetrafluoropropene

Interestingly the best option for a refrigerant may be CO2 itself, which if collected from the atmosphere has no global warming or ozone depletion issues. The only drawback is CO2 refrigeration equipment has to operate at relatively high pressure, but this isn't a major problem:

https://www.rsi.edu/blog/hvacr/carbon-dioxide-refrigerant/

Getting rid of the chloro-flouro stuff makes lots of sense, but not producing any of it in the first place would be even better.

shalmanese
Planet Money did a story [1] in 2020 about a US team running a very similar scheme with the same business model to get rid of R12 refrigerant in the Midwest.

It turns out running a business where you give people money in exchange for their junk is suprisingly harder than you would think.

[1] https://www.npr.org/transcripts/917060248

exp1orer
Author here, very excited to share this with HN. Been seeing a lot of engineers thinking about getting into climate so I thought people might find it interesting. Happy to answer any questions!
userbinator
IMHO the CFCs were one of the biggest advances in technology in the 20th century. Non-toxic, non-flammable, and stable under ordinary conditions, and providing very good efficiency compared to the alternatives. The problem is with large-scale atmospheric releases, not with the substance itself.

Thus I am absolutely in agreement with recollecting, reselling, and reusing, but in strong opposition to destroying what would otherwise be useful. The latter only encourages the replacement of equipment in a continued cycle of forced obolescence, which might be far worse from a CO2 perspective.

I've always found it a little amusing that R152a, which is a pretty good replacement for R12, you can buy in "gas dusters" and legally vent all you want to the atmosphere, but it's technically illegal according to the EPA to recharge an R12 system with it.

This is from the viewpoint of someone who restores and repairs old appliances. Environmental considerations aside, I'd never vent deliberately, just because of how expensive and rare these substances are now --- and not surprisingly, there is an underground market for banned refrigerants too.

Thus, "you're throwing away money if you vent refrigerant" is probably going to have a much bigger effect than mentioning "climate change".

Glyptodon
Funny enough the compressor on the older heat pump that came w/ my house blew this week after a power surge. Got to watch a smokey mist of R-22 leak for a several hours.

I knew the unit was into EoL based on age, but when something seems to work fine it's really hard feel like preemptive replacement is the right choice or priority.

At least in the US R-22 is so expensive and people still repair and recharge units not infrequently. Wonder how reasonable or possible capturing leaking refrigerant would be. I was watching it leak and vaguely wondered if it would be possible to catch in a large umbrella.

kky
This work is high impact for low effort (relative to carbon removal and sequestration), ready to deploy today, and largely overlooked. This type of effort is crucial to address — as fast as possible. I'm really happy to see this.
digb
I really really love how this post touches on the bullshit that is the carbon credit market. Question: what incentive do BigCos have to buy your "high quality" carbon offsets vs the inferior ones you mentioned? Do you price cheaper per ton of CO2 credited? At the end of the day they're just trying to comply at the cheapest price possible, right?
londons_explore
Something doesn't quite add up in my mind - I must be missing something, please help HN...

So a regular home refrigerator has about 60 grams of R600a in it. It has a global warming potential of 3. That means if you illegally vent it to the atmosphere, you are doing the same environmental harm as venting 180 grams of CO2.

However, if you hire a trained technician to extract the gas for you, and he drives 10 km to get to your house, then his van (a brand new average van getting 158 g/CO2 per km) will emit 1580 grams of CO2.

Considering this, it seems crazy to bother regulating this stuff.

stevekrouse
Refrigerants are this huge elephant in the room in climate change. Everybody knows there a main issue but almost nobody is addressing them. They're not easy nor sexy. Makes this work all the more critical. Go Louis go!
ajkjk
This caused me to google some refrigerants mentioned in the comments, and I gotta say, reading about auto techs' opinions on different refrigerants is... weirdly interesting: https://www.autoserviceprofessional.com/articles/7868-real-w...
rootusrootus
I just had my air conditioner replaced last week, and I walked out to check on the tech doing the work just as he finished removing the refrigerant from the old system. By venting it to atmosphere. forehead slap. I was under the impression the EPA will go after technicians personally if they get caught doing that. R410a may not be the same ozone-depleting refrigerant as R-22, but it's still a lot worse than CO2 for greenhouse effect.

I heard they're switching next year away from R410a to something new. But... not propane?

oli5679
This article makes me a bit worried about 'cobra effects'

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perverse_incentive

"The British government, concerned about the number of venomous cobras in Delhi, offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially, this was a successful strategy; large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising people began to breed cobras for the income."

lucioperca
One can simply use ordinary Propane as an Refrigerant like in your fridge: https://www.green-cooling-initiative.org/network/best-practi...
littlestymaar
In France (and maybe in the entire UE), it is mandatory for refrigerant to be collected, and you must bring your old fridge/freezer to a HWRC when you want to dispose of it.

However, in a fridge/freezer the refrigerant circulate in metallic tubes, usually made of copper which have great conductivity. And what do you think happen when you leave copper tubes unattended at night? Copper thieves come and scrap the fridge with no regards for the refrigerant being released to the atmosphere…

StillBored
Refrigerant and climate change is a problem we created by replacing very efficient CFC based refrigerants with a very short lifetime in the atmosphere with "more stable compounds".

It was a huge political failure, which was completely focused on the "ozone hole" rather than making wise decisions. Just banning CFC's as propellants, and all the other uses which basically dumped huge quantities into the atmosphere and putting licensing requirements around their use, and enforcing the recapture (aka AC techs are tracked for how much they buy vs return), and not filling leaky systems would have solved the immediate problem. But the legislative bodies were also convinced to legislate a change in equipment/refrigerant to these newer compounds which had a huge positive effect on many manufactures and AC installers bottom line. And now we have to do it again because the people warning about the dangers of these new (frequently patented) refrigerant compounds were ignored.

Like the story about American democracy, this is going to be one of those cases of trying all the wrong approaches before doing the right thing.

AlbertCory
I am SO lucky to have a friendly neighbor who's an HVAC technician. A relay went out on my A/C last week, and he came over and fixed it the next morning.

Pro tip: there are certain advantages to living in a place where not everyone is an engineer in high tech.

epaulson
Refrigerants are really interesting - we phased out a bunch of them a few decades ago because they were destroying ozone, but what we replaced them with had high Global Warming Potential (GWP.) The new thing that all of the HVAC companies are working on are finding new refrigerants that have low GWP and work well in their equipment. One of the tricky things is a lot of the low GWP refrigerants are mildly flammable, so there's some thought about trying to revise the building codes to permit their use.
tfvlrue
I'm glad to see someone taking the initiative to mitigate this problem. I also wonder how much "canned air" dusters contribute overall. If I recall correctly, they're commonly just HFC-134a in a can. But because it's not used as a refrigerant, it's outside the EPA's purview and can just be sprayed into the atmosphere willy-nilly. Using one can is more or less equivalent to venting the refrigerant from a car's AC, yet for some reason it's a common practice.
jakogut
> the destruction process permanently neutralizes the chemical

This raises a few questions in my mind. TFA makes it sound like the refrigerant boogeyman is a problem of fixed quantity. It sounds like after we've destroyed all the refrigerant, it can cause no more harm, but clearly these refrigerants must be manufactured on a continual basis?

Can refrigerants not be recycled? What materials go into the creation of refrigerants? Is anything of value lost in destroying refrigerants, besides the energy that went into making them?

pkulak
The writeup mentions fraud, but doesn't say how they plan to keep folks from just buying refrigerant and turning it in. Unless I missed it. Classic "cobra effect" stuff.
tristor
If anything they are understating the problem refrigerants cause. Not only are most refrigerants more potent from a greenhouse potential, many are based on CFCs that are ozone depleters. We’ve already created a hole in the ozone layer from CFCs being used as aerosol propellants before that practice was banned, but we still have CFC refrigerants in use globally all over the place. In fact propellants are generally refrigerants.
josephcsible
Why does the refrigerant need to be destroyed rather than reused in new air conditioners?
techwiz137
Full disclosure. I work at a scrap yard and we routinely discharge systems into the air, and I am sure many many other scrap yards do absolutely the same.
wcoenen
> our credits are as high-quality as the best carbon removal technology, can scale up much faster, and are currently offered at 1/10th the price

I'm confused about this remark about price. Isn't there a market of buyers and sellers? Why would one sell carbon credits below market price?

christolles
Nobody is working on refrigerants bc they're nerdy and hard. Recoolit is super important!
ohnomatopoeia
Thanks for sharing! Based on my reading, reducing refrigerants is one of the highest-impact ways to reduce planet risk.

"Our plan is simple and has zero technical risk" What do you see as the biggest risk? And what is your assessment for why no one has pursued this approach before?

wanderr
Is there any data on this 6% of global emissions claim? Do they mean 6% of CO2e emissions? (in which case the "2000x" claim is redundant and makes this statement overblown, as it's already factored into the CO2e calculation)
fataliss
That's the kind of projects we need to get where we need to be in terms of emissions. It won't be easy, but clever solutions where there is real $$ incentives are the ones that can actually be implemented!
aperson_hello
Why actively destroy the refrigerant (at least for refrigerants still in use/production)? Most can be reclaimed and re-purified rather than destroying - with a less energy intensive process than making new.
asah
Is it possible to deactivate these gasses in situ ? I could see that being more successful than transportation, but I know nothing about the chemistry...
jotm
Speaking of refrigerants, you can replace R22 directly, R134 sometimes directly but desirably with new oil and capillary, and probably other refrigerants with... R290 - an innovative compound that is very environmentally friendly and cheap. Also known as Propane.

I've done it with my home office room A/C, a small 12,000 BTU unit. I couldn't believe it when I found out you can do that.

They say R290 is cleaner, purer, blah blah, but the gas from a simple propane tank you can get anywhere works fine. Remains to be seen for how long, so far 2 summers and going strong.

williamsmj
How is this different from https://tradewater.us/?
zbrozek
Shouldn't there be provision to verify gas-tightness and recharge the equipment with less-harmful refrigerants?
Nextgrid
I wonder what the carbon impact of shipping the refrigerant back to them is and whether it outweighs the benefits?
jmcwjmcw
Really cool approach to decarbonization!
johnla
Feels like the perfect thing for a Bill Gates, Elon Musk or other rich guy to bankroll. I know it's not the job of billionaires to do but it should be a government thing. But the Southeast Asian countries probably wouldn't do it and neither would the US do it for another country. The amount they're trying to raise seems like it would be tiny for a billionaire type.
simonjgreen
In the UK this is an offense. All refrigerant must be captured.
anonu
Could you make a device that destroys the refrigerant on the spot?
endisneigh
Why can’t salt water be used as a refrigerant?
Samyak1
Very interesting
markrazini8
ohgreatwtf
why not recycle? I can buy these refrigerants today. You say you are working to replace them with greenhouse safe refrigerants. Why are these not economically priced and competitive on the market?
bilsbie
tellitnow
huqedato
"...these gases are 2000x worse than CO2 and altogether this problem accounts for 6% of all global emissions." Says who ? Proof ?
lawl
I don't necessarily buy this and am too lazy to look deeper into it. But I like your attitude, good luck.

Edit: where is this 6% number coming from? https://ourworldindata.org/ghg-emissions-by-sector

Chemical & petrochemical (3.6%): energy-related emissions from the manufacturing of fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, refrigerants, oil and gas extraction, etc.

gennarro
Related link on refrigerants and global warming potential: https://appliance.report/gwp/

It’ll be really interesting to what happens as the next gen of refrigerants rolls out. There was a great link on hn recently about them but I’m unable to locate it.

morninglight
Why are all cars and trucks sold with air conditioning?

Is it too much to roll down a window?

Why are those who don't use air conditioning paying the "environmental refrigerant tax"?

How much refrigerant would be saved if vehicle air conditioning was an additional expense?

sr.ht