Every day, extraordinary people in the HFC value chain are fighting illegal trade. Discover their stories below.
Illegally traded HFC imports in Italy and Europe are all too familiar to Marco Buoni, Director General of Centro Studi Galileo, Secretary General of ATF and President of AREA (European Association of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat Pump Contractors). The smuggling of HFCs is unfortunately well known by Centro Studi Galileo, the main training centre for the HVACR sector in Italy. The centre trains more than 10,000 RAC technicians and holds over 100 courses per year, making it one of the largest in Europe.
For this reason, Centro Studi Galileo carefully monitors and reports suspicious online HFC adverts, and invites refrigeration technicians in Italy to do the same and use all available tools – including the action line developed by EFCTC – to tackle the illegal HFC market.
Marco Buoni acknowledges the complexity of the problem of illegal HFC imports which makes use of highly differentiated routes and means of entry into Europe. Many shipments depart from large HFC production centres in Asia and reach the borders of the European Union by sea and over land. The product is smuggled into the EU either by individuals or by criminal organisations who are aiming to make extra money.
These gases are then marketed to professionals who – despite being aware of the illegality of the suppliers and of the safety issues that could occur from using unverified gases – are willing to cut costs and disregard the associated environmental issues.
According to Buoni, it is essential to raise awareness among citizens and the wider value chain so that they know about the risks associated with using illegally imported HFCs. This includes risks related to the safety and warranty of installed systems. Specific training sessions should also be delivered to custom officers to help to catch any illegally traded products.
Claus-Dieter Penno has represented trade, commerce, industry, and educational institutions in the refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump sectors since 2017. Before his election as President of the ZVKKW, he worked for decades as an engineer in the trade and distribution of refrigerants. “Our association and its companies are fully behind the F-Gas Regulation and its associated goal of environmental protection. Since the introduction of the regulation in 2015, the member companies have been striving to use refrigerants more efficiently in order to avoid a potential supply issues.”
At the same time, working with refrigerants can be extremely difficult for the industry – so difficult that some companies are likely to go out of business in the medium term. In their work they must keep up to date with the latest regulations whilst the black market creates unfair price pressure. According to Penno, this repeatedly leads to difficult conversations with some customers. Small companies in particular will not be able to cope with the pressure to reduce their prices in the medium term.
From a technical point of view, the black market also can damage equipment. According to Penno, many a plant operator has found that the refrigerants he has bought and filled himself do not meet the required specifications and so the refrigeration plant has stopped working. The companies in his association are then called in to extract the impure material and replace them with legitimately sourced refrigerants to avoid any major damage.
On behalf of the ZVKKW, Penno is also in contact with other national associations in Europe. He can confirm that the implementation of the F-Gas Regulation into national law as well as its enforcement differs from country to country. However, the challenges for small companies across Europe are very similar. In addition to harsher penalties for smugglers, Penno would like European policy makers to listen to the industry about the challenges they are facing.
As managing director of a refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump technology company, Wimar Wysluch has been working with refrigerants for over 35 years. He also serves as a publicly appointed expert and surveyor: Wysluch is President of the German Surveyor’s Council on Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat Pumps.
In his estimation, almost every other cooling system in building technology is not tested according to the regulations, often filled with refrigerants from dubious sources. He knows of countless cases in which illegal refrigerants have led to system damage, with the compressor impacted in most cases. The damaged parts or the whole system then have to be replaced, even when their life cycle has not been completed. Insurance does not cover the use of illegitimate refrigerants and it ends up costing operators.
Wysluch reports that refrigerant gases acquired illegally online are also a recurring issue. He remembers one case where an installer correctly refused to refill a refrigerant gas into a customer’s system – the gas was bought via an online platform and came in an illegal disposable cylinder. The customer tried to force him by calling in a lawyer, but this installer continued to refuse. Another provider was less squeamish, resulting in three compressors going out of order.
Further, since most specialised companies refuse to fill refrigerant gases bought online for liability reasons, the task is often carried out by laymen. This poses an additional risk for system operators, the environment and the safety of those involved. It also violates the legal obligation of end users to keep records and only allow certified personnel from certified companies to work on their cooling systems.
For many years, Wysluch has campaigned against the issue of refrigerant gases traded illegally outside of the quota system of the F-gas regulation. Time and again he has also reported cases to the authorities. He appeals to everyone to act according to the law, it is the only way to combat the illegal trade and illegal use of refrigerants. If no one buys refrigerants from illegitimate sources, the black market will lose its footing.
I will buy only from reliable traders
I will not buy disposable cylinders
I will check cylinders for EU specifications
I will check the Safety Data Sheet
I will report suspicious activity to the EFCTC Action Line
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