VistalWorks gets UK funding for illicit refrigerant project

Scottish company VistalWorks has secured funding from the UK government to develop a way to combat the black market in refrigerant gases.

The tech start-up – which has operations in Glasgow as well as Estonia – has received £60,000 (around $80,000) from Innovate UK for a project that will aim to identify illicit sales of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants online.

VistalWorks is already using its platform to help consumers spot counterfeits when shopping on the Internet, with a browser plugin that works in Chrome, as well as an online checker tool that currently works on eBay and Amazon’s UK sites.

Illegal imports of HFC gases have rocketed in the last few years, according to chemical trade body Cefic, which says the trade is poised to grow even further with tightening of EU carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) quotas – which set limits on how much HFC producers can place on the market – coming into force in January.

The EU set annual quotas for HFCs in 2018, hoping that would encourage the use of greener refrigerants, but that has inadvertently stimulated a black market in illicit importers tapping into rising prices.

Cefic is spearheading an awareness-raising campaign – #SayNoToIllegalHFCs – to draw attention to the problem. The campaign cites figures estimating that around 34m CO2e of bulk HFCs were illegally placed on the market in 2018.

“Research shows 83 per cent of all people in the refrigerants value chain know about this illegal trade. 72 per cent have been offered disposable cylinders, which are banned in Europe and are therefore illegal, according to the trade body.

The trade finances organised crime, threatens legitimate small businesses, and halts progress to climate goals, it adds.

VistalWorks’ proposed tech solution will aim to detect illegal online sellers of HFCs and support enforcement action against them, in the hope of curbing the trade by up to 840,000 CO2e tonnes a year, according to an article on

The company hopes to be able to present the platform during the next UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), which is due tot take place in Glasgow in November 2021.

“Reducing the black market will enable legitimate businesses to ‘build back better’ from the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a more sustainable economy and directly tackling the illegal emissions threatening net zero targets in countries across the globe,” said Vicky Brock (pictured), VistalWorks’ chief executive and co-founder.

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