No Refrigerant Left Behind
July 4, 2022

No Refrigerant Left Behind

(update: see Hacker News discussion with >300 comments here)

tldr: We’re solving the biggest, most neglected opportunity in climate change: refrigerants. Pound-for-pound, these gases are 2000x worse than CO2 and altogether this problem accounts for 6% of all global emissions. Our plan is simple and has zero technical risk. If successful we can prevent 2 billion tons CO2-equivalent in the next 10 years by collecting and destroying these gases. We pay for this by selling carbon credits: 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. Here’s the story of how we do it.

But first, if you’ve already heard enough and want to buy high quality refrigerant-backed credits before our first batch of 1400 credits sells out, click here or start a monthly subscription.

The Problem

Watch that video and you’ll see and hear refrigerants, super potent greenhouse gases 2000x worse than CO2, being released into our atmosphere for no good reason at all. It is a tiny tragedy that happens all around the world every day. The good news is that it’s entirely preventable. I’ve spent the last two years making a plan to do just that. Over the next 10 years we can prevent 2 billion tons CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) from being released into the environment.

This man in the video is not an environment-hating supervillain, but Johan, an AC technician in Jakarta. He’s in the middle of scrapping an old air conditioner for parts. The problem is, the gas inside the unit is useless to Johan and he has no alternatives for handling it, so he simply gets rid of it by opening the valve and poisoning the environment.

Every time he does this with a single air conditioner, it has the same effect as burning 250 gallons of gasoline, which is more than enough to drive from SF to NY and back. He does this every day, and so do millions of other technicians around the world.

Refrigerant emissions already cause 6% of all global climate change (3GT/year) according to the IPCC (Ch2), and are projected to rise at least 20% higher by 2030, especially in the tropical countries where AC is most essential and the market is growing fastest.

We’ve figured out how to keep this from happening in a cost-effective and scalable way. In theory it’s simple: we pay AC technicians like Johan to collect the harmful gases, and then we destroy the gas.

In practice, there are a lot of interesting challenges along the way:

  • How do we find, train, and onboard thousands of AC repair shops and technicians?
  • How do we build an app and software platform for tracking this process from Johan to destruction? It needs to be used by users with little formal education, in challenging field conditions, and in the middle of complex physical workflows.
  • How do we efficiently provide tools for the gas capture, and bring the full cylinders of gas back safely?
  • How do we permanently destroy the gas, and prevent its harmful byproducts (including hydrochloric acid and hydrofluoric acid) from having any adverse environmental impact?
  • How do we provide an incentive to the technicians while adding protections against fraud and scams?

And, since we’re a business, the most important question: how do we pay for all this? This is where carbon credits come in. 

How we think about carbon credits

There’s a lie at the heart of the carbon credit market. The underlying abstraction is that every ton of CO2e is the same, but many “certified” credits don’t have much impact, especially from deforestation prevention. And plenty of companies claim carbon neutrality by buying these cheap, low quality credits.

On the other hand, carbon removals are great, but many of those solutions (like tree-planting) only store the carbon temporarily, and it's unclear which of them will become cost-effective and scalable. While true carbon removal like direct air capture (DAC) is essential, it's expensive. 

Right now engineered removals for 2 billion tons of CO2 would take 1 trillion dollars. We can prevent those emissions for 10x cheaper and we’ve already started. The world needs both removals and high-quality avoided emissions.

Our credits are permanent: the gas is destroyed immediately, fully preventing all climate impact forever, and no need to worry about natural carbon cycles. They are also additional: the refrigerant is being emitted now, our work prevents it, there’s no other reason besides offsets that the technicians would participate, and the destruction process permanently neutralizes the chemicals.

CO2 vs Refrigerants

Over the long run, we have to solve carbon dioxide. And it’s a problem built into every aspect of modern life: from energy, to farming, to construction. Even worse, the IPCC concludes that to prevent the worst outcomes from climate change we will need to remove CO2 in addition to preventing emissions. This is like removing milk from your coffee; it would have been so much easier to just not put in the milk. But we didn’t cut emissions in time, so we now have to put immense energy into removing CO2 as well.

However, with all this focus on carbon dioxide, we’ve ignored the easiest, most technically-ready climate solution: stop emitting refrigerants. All we have to do is capture them before release, and destroy them.

I’ve actually been understating how bad refrigerants are. The 2000x multiplier I’ve been using is over a 100-year timeframe, which is the standard way to compare gases with different atmospheric lifetimes. But a century is a very long time: refrigerants have a massive impact immediately, but a shorter lifetime. Their impact over the next few decades – critical years in the climate fight – is actually over 5000x CO2! They’ll hit hardest when the climate system is on the verge of major potential tipping points: melting polar ice, methane bubbling out of the Siberian permafrost, ocean currents shifting to a new equilibrium. 

Every kilogram matters. Every day matters. No refrigerant left behind.

The plan

So, with all those pieces in place, here’s our plan:

  1. Proof of concept – collect + destroy 1400 CO2e tons in Indonesia – DONE (May 2022)
  2. Sell $100,000 worth of credits – THIS POST (July 2022)
  3. Raise additional funding to implement this plan – August 2022
  4. 10,000 tons (Indonesia) – 2022
  5. 100,000 tons (Indonesia) – 2023
  6. 2b tons (Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, India, etc) – by 2032
  7. Use our scale to accelerate deployment of energy-efficient ACs with zero-GWP gases – 2030s

Right now we need to sell the credits from our first batch. But the credit selling process is not designed for fast-moving startups doing something new. Most buyers require third-party certification that takes 6-12 months to approve even though the science behind our approach is rock-solid.

We need forward-thinking buyers to place a bet on us. Every purchase is doubly catalytic: it pays for more prevented emissions, and it helps us prove that this is a scalable business so we can raise funding to go even faster. 

You can use these right away to offset your personal emissions, buy on behalf of your company, or even give them to friends and family. (Email us for a fancy pdf certificate; frame and mantleplace not included.) Or you can hang on to them with the intent of trading them on the offset market in the future. We can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to get this first batch of offsets retroactively verified by a third party and onto a trading platform, but that’s our plan.

When you buy our credits you get full access to all the data behind it, including pictures of every air conditioner and GPS tracking from every cylinder. No other credit seller has this level of transparency.

Two years ago I was just another tech guy looking to “get into climate”. I picked up Project Drawdown. It said refrigerant emissions were the number 1 problem. I stopped reading and got to work. Today we’re a team of 7, with a growing network of partners and collectors. We just destroyed our first 1400 CO2e tons of refrigerant and expect to scale our work 100x by the end of 2023. We’re in a position to do something incredible. 

We need to sell out our first 1400 offsets to make this go. Your purchase will help us scale up and eventually prevent 2b tons of CO2e released into the atmosphere. We’re giving you our best, early-adopter price of $75. 

Subscribe for monthly credit purchases, or buy one (or five) today. The average American emits 15 tons CO2 per year – if you offset that all in one go, we’ll even give you a special discount.

Thank you,
Louis Potok
Recoolit, Founder

PS - we're not actively hiring yet, but always looking to talk to talented folks who might be a fit with our team. If you care about climate, shoot me an email. 

Thanks Steve Krouse, Calvin French-Owen, Jamie Wong, K Young, JP Posma, Tom O'Keefe, Igor Serebryany, and Nishul Saperia for feedback on earlier versions of this post.

Correction 2022-07-06: an earlier version of this post claimed that "the average US household emits 15 tons CO2 per year". In fact, that is per-capita, not per household.