The Separation Equation
July 7, 2008
For contractors and technicians, what to do with recovered refrigerant - especially HCFCs such as R-22 that they deem not safe to return to a system because of purity issues - is becoming an ever-increasing challenge. The simple, and still quite common, solution is to vent. But that is - let’s face it - both illegal and contributing to rising concerns about long-term supplies of R-22 given the number of systems running on R-22.
For two decades, HVACR contractors have been aware of the 3Rs: recovery/recycling/reclamation. Recovery is pulling refrigerant from a system and storing it in a canister on site before reintroducing it to the system.
Hand-carried recycling equipment, required as part of the recovery process, is used to clean up the refrigerant for reintroduction. But to be totally sure, contractors know they need to have the refrigerant submitted to a more sophisticated cleaning process that ensures the chemicals come back to ARI 700 purity standards.
ENTER ARI 700The ARI 700 standard requires the refrigerant to be 99.5 percent pure. If a canister of R-22 pulled from systems in the field is mixed with more than 0.5 percent of any other refrigerant, it does not pass the ARI 700 standard. The choice then is to get the refrigerant back to ARI 700 or destroy it by incineration.
In Canada, there is a program called Refrigerant Management Canada (RMC), in which manufacturers add a surcharge to each liter of refrigerant sold, with that surcharge going to a fund to provide for such destruction. Technicians return recovered refrigerant to local supply houses and incur only the travel charges to bring the canisters in. The RMC fund pays the cost of destruction.
Such a program is not in place in the United States. If a refrigerant has to be destroyed, the cost of disposal is typically footed by the contractor or wholesaler.
SEPARATIONJust as industry folks are starting to understand reclamation better, there is yet another approach being advocated called separation.
The key to those involved in the process is that separation can go a step further than reclamation. They contend that while reclamation can eliminate contaminants in refrigerants, separation can better deal with the issue of mixed refrigerants that might be in a canister.
So how might the separation process work? A company called Pure Chem Inc., located in Rhome, Texas, has developed one way.
Here’s how Pure Chem’s Chris Ludwig describes his company’s approach:
“If someone sends us mixed R-22, we do not have to destroy it but instead can separate out the R-22. Our process starts off the same as any reclaimer. We first have to reclaim the refrigerant to take out all the normal contaminants. Then we begin the process of separating the mixed refrigerants. Usually we want to keep the R-22, so we separate out the other refrigerants until the R-22 is over 99.5 percent and meets or exceeds the ARI 700 standard.
“By doing this, we can save the expensive and soon-to-be-scarce R-22. The small amounts of other mixed refrigerants that have been separated are usually destroyed by incineration, but most of the valuable R-22 product has been saved.”
As part of the process, Pure Chem constructed a 100-foot-tall fractional distillation column that Ludwig said has the highest capacity in the industry and is used for processing R-22 and other mixtures of refrigerants, solvents, and other chemicals.
INCENTIVESOver the next several months, The NEWS will be publishing a number of articles related to the reclamation aspect of recovery/recycling/reclamation in light of the pending phaseout of R-22 and other HCFC refrigerants.
In one issue, The NEWS will publish solicited information from close to 50 Environmental Protection Agency- (EPA-) certified reclamation and separation facilities regarding the two most commonly asked questions of contractors:
• “What’s it going to cost me to send my refrigerant in for reclamation or separation?”
• What’s in it for me to do so?”
Pure Chem’s Ludwig offers at least one company’s perspective.
“The Pure Chem process can save the mixed R-22 and return a valuable product back to the contractor. The contractor does not have to pay a penalty fee for destruction when he sends mixed R-22.
“The motivation is: There is no penalty for sending mixed R-22; the contractor gets paid for the unmixed R-22 and for the mixed R-22; the contractor can consolidate his small cylinders into larger ones and avoid paying cylinder handling fees that others often charge.
“Contractors used to be afraid of consolidating their refrigerants into one cylinder because one small mistake could lead to mixed refrigerant, and then they would be faced with a large bill for disposal. Now they don’t have to worry about that. After reclamation and separation, the contractor’s scarce R-22 can be repurchased back for future use.”
PIPELINEAnother topic to be explored in future issues of The NEWS concerns how smooth the return process can become. Does the contractor work with supply houses or directly with the reclaimer/separator? How much upfront prep work will the contractor have to do? What kind of packaging and quantities does the contractor have to accumulate before getting the questionable refrigerant off his or her hands?
Again, Ludwig offers one perspective. “All the contractor has to do to get his refrigerant to us is give us a call and we will arrange freight to have it picked up. If the contractor needs a cylinder, we can ship one to him. We pay the freight on loads over 800 pounds of refrigerant.”
For more information, visit www.purecheminc.com.
Publication Date: 07/07/2008