The environmental impact of the F-gases used as refrigerants in the cooling industry deserves special attention.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has established a standardized classification of GHGs, categorized by the sectors and particular applications where they are used. For its direct connection with the KET4F-Gas project objectives, the category denoted as 2F is the most relevant, as it includes ozone depleting substances substitutes, such as HFCs and PFCs. Category 2F includes refrigeration and air conditioning substances (subcategory 2F1), foaming agents (2F2), fire extinguishers (2F3) and aerosols (2F4). Just to give an order of magnitude, the EU28 countries emitted in 2016 the astonishing amount of 110 Million of Tons of CO2-eq of F-Gases. It is evident that this represents a very serious environmental issue demanding urgent global action.
Among the cited subcategories, refrigeration and air conditioning concentrated in 2016 nearly 85% of total F-gas emissions, underlining the relevance of this particular cooling industry subcategory as primary target for the F-gas emission control policies. Then, it is evident that all economic sectors related with refrigeration and air conditioning must commit to urgent actions intended to replace F-gas use, and drastically reduce their environmental impact. This entails advancing trough intense research and development in several alternative directions. The targets include identifying suitable replacement working gases, and also improving the recovery and recycling of F-gases. In this context, KET4F-Gas project proposes a multiscale approach combining state-of-the-art KETs.
There are several emerging potential alternatives to recover a F-gas after the end of the life cycle of the devices containing it. The recent advances in materials science have allowed to develop methods such as: novel ionic solvents tailored to precisely separate a target molecule; engineered functionalized porous solids with enhanced adsorption capacity; crossover separation media including graphene derived nanostructures; and hybrid polymeric membranes with amazing separation ability. The partnership of this project includes research groups with background and experience in each of these individual techniques, and the main objective is to expand the performance of the recycling processes by developing new techniques combining the best abilities of each of these independent techniques in a synergistic approach. The research and innovation effort performed during this stage has been exemplary, and it has been inspired and guided through a close cooperation with cooling industry companies, waste recovery and recycling enterprises, and public institutions in charge of environmental policies in the SUDOE area.
As a significant result of this particular stage of the project, two innovative separation procedures have been already postulated to improve the selective recovery of some of the most abundant F-gases in refrigeration industries. The process has been designed and validated in the laboratory and is now being scaled up in a pilot plant to prove its industrial performance, a key step before its widespread application.