Cool tech: Building capacity for reducing ozone-depleting substances

October 26, 2016

Repair men looking at refrigerators
"However, eliminating these substances from production is not enough – what happens during maintenance and repair is also important. Low-quality refrigerator repair service frequently causes dangerous gas leaks – up until now our technicians simply have not realized how hazardous these ODS gases are for the environment."

“When I accepted an invitation from the Belarusian Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Association to participate in an advanced training course, it was a major turning point in my life. At the time, I was a young and ambitious Senior Refrigeration Engineer, leading a number of projects at a private company – I had been doing this for the past five years, and was looking for opportunities to grow as a professional. So, that is why I decided to take up the offer to learn about new approaches to the installation, operation, maintenance and repair of refrigeration and air conditioning systems. The focus of the course would be technologies for handling ozone depleting substances, a relatively new field of study in Belarus.

The use of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) in the manufacture of refrigeration equipment in our country is an important issue. International organisations have been working with our government for the past 10 years to reduce the use of such chemicals at Belarusian factories, and replace them with non-ODS alternatives. However, eliminating these substances from production is not enough – what happens during maintenance and repair is also important. Low-quality refrigerator repair service frequently causes dangerous gas leaks – up until now our technicians simply have not realized how hazardous these ODS gases are for the environment. Also, good refrigeration repair equipment is expensive – around US$ 15 000 for a full tool set – and most small, private enterprises and young technicians cannot afford it. The consequence is poor repair services.

For me, working in refrigerator repair service is more than a job. I look at it as an ‘art’ - everything should be done according to high aesthetic and technical standards. In 2004, I was afforded the opportunity to enroll at the Faculty of Low-Temperature Equipment and Technology at the Belarusian National Technical University. The creation of the Faculty had been recently enabled by an ODS Phase-out Project supported by the UNDP and GEF. The facility was at an early stage of development, and students and professors alike had to start from basics in this new field. Working side by side, we were challenged to translate schoolbooks and user’s manuals from foreign languages, open academic archives, create a technical database and create 3D models. After several years of hard work we laid a solid foundation for future specialists – we were real pioneers in the field of refrigeration in the country. But there was still another challenge to overcome – who would be prepared to employ all these fresh graduates from an experimental university program?

In order to prove my credentials I joined the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Association (called APIMH). With support of the Phase-out project, APIMH offers advanced training courses for individuals and enterprises alike and provides certification. The course is an intense, free-of-charge, weekly experiential learning and knowledge-exchange opportunity, rather than a ‘school-room’ course. This gave me the opportunity to meet with international specialists, exchange ideas with university professors and receive a special set of repair tools to improve my services. This equipment is very expensive, and for someone like me with a young child to care for, I could never have afforded it without this support. This enabled me to start my own business, providing environmentally-friendly refrigerator repair services

At first, it was difficult to enter the market independently, especially as I had to compete with big enterprises. But, with high motivation and my new skills and equipment, I earned a trustworthy reputation and can guarantee high quality service. Running my own business, I am making my dreams come true: combining personal development with business opportunities. I can provide better for my family, and it is really satisfying to know that I am contributing to efforts in Belarus to solve an important environmental problem.”

YURI GLUBOKIY  is a refrigerator repair serviceman in Belarus. Born in a small town, he moved to Minsk to follow his passion and study low-temperature equipment and technology. He spent more than 12 years experimenting, learning and mastering the art of low-temperature technology.

“I have worked for more than 15 years in the field of refrigeration and air-conditioning, and understand the risk that ozone-depleting substances pose to our environment and health. Education is a key element in minimizing the use of ozone-depleting gases. To introduce ozone-friendly equipment and technologies into production and maintenance, our specialists of low-temperature technology need to acquire new knowledge and skills. UNDP and the GEF provided support through the HCFC Phase-Out project for us to set up a new training facility here at the University – it is the only one of its kind in the country, where we can provide training in the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants. It is very gratifying to see how motivated the students become when they have the chance to work with this new machinery, and to see that we have the chance here in Belarus to ‘catch up with the times.’

We can only teach students if we can also raise the skills of our educators – including me! Again with support from the GEF-funded Phase-out project, I and my colleagues were given the opportunity to attend a 1-week training workshop at the Centro Studi Galileo in Italy. Here we were exposed to an extremely high standard of professionalism and engaged in vibrant debates. The live interaction with professionals from other countries enabled us to learn more than we could ever have obtained from the Internet or books – which are what we had to rely on before. We realized that our teaching materials at home were rather outdated, and attending this learning exchange prompted us to review our teaching methods, using new study materials we purchased at this event. Since then, we have become part of an international community of practice that is working to eliminate ozone-depleting substances; we regularly send a delegation to Chillventa, which is one of the biggest platforms for promoting innovation in refrigeration and ventilation. We are able to obtain the latest updates on energy efficiency and sustainability from leading experts from all over the world. This energises us and boosts our confidence as educators, and equips us better to raise the skills base in Belarus for addressing the problem of ozone depletion. Our involvement in the Phase-out project has shifted our skills development opportunities into another level so that we can create a much better future.”

ZHUK NIKOLAY is a Senior Professor at the Low Temperature Technology and Refrigeration Faculty at the National Technical University in Belarus, where Yuri Glubokiy was trained in ozone friendly refrigeration repair technologies.

UNDP partners with governments and the private sector to provide targeted policy advice and specialized technical assistance, training and technology transfer to adopt ozone and climate friendly technologies and best practices. In Europe, assistance is being provided to the governments of Belarus, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, and relevant stakeholders, through a number of related projects to eliminate the use of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) through progressive reduction of HCFC import and consumption.

 In Belarus, ozone-depleting substances are used in a wide range of industrial and consumer applications, mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners, but also in installations for mobile telephone networks and other industrial processes. The GEF-financed and UNDP-supported HCFC PhaseOut Project worked to provide technical assistance, build capacity and strengthen institutions, improve regulatory and control measures for handling HCFCs, develop and introduce ozone-friendly alternative technologies, and assist Belarus in meeting its obligations under the Montreal Protocol. The project was implemented in partnership with government institutions, local NGOs, industry associations, educational institutions and small business operators as well as with other relevant projects in the region through enhanced networking.

This story was originally published in "Voices of Impact: Speaking for the Global Commons" by UNDP in 2016.