ACHRNEWS

HVACR Tackles Refrigerant Reclamation

December 1, 2008
Recovered refrigerant at the Johnstone Supply wholesaler in Rockford, Ill., awaits shipping to a reclamation facility. Monitoring the project is Al Kunze, owner of the local supply house.


The third “R” of recover-recycle-reclaim is solidly in place and just waiting for more contractors to bring in questionable refrigerant. That was apparent in the results of a NEWS survey of reclamation companies, listed as “Certified Refrigerant Reclaimers” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The intent of the survey was not to go into the different processes used by the reclaimers to bring refrigerant back to ARI-700 purity standards. (The NEWS has and will continue to run stories on the technical aspects of the technology.) Rather, the purpose was to find out how a contractor goes about getting refrigerant to the reclaimer, what costs might be involved, and the incentives to do so.

Based on responses (see the feature article “Reclaim Survey: Where to Go, What it Costs” in this issue), the methods range from contractors sending the refrigerant by common carrier or taking it to a local supply house, to the reclaim company coming to the contractor’s shop and picking up the refrigerant.

The cost was often tied into financial incentives, such as banking (credits), buybacks - or various combinations.

LOFTY IDEAS

Two more lofty ideas are overshadowing the fine print. For one thing, reclaiming refrigerant - especially that of questionable purity - means it will not need to be stockpiled by the contractor or illegally vented. Such situations have been the subject of comment within the industry, especially among wholesalers.

Based on the amount of new R-22 being sold (compared to what was coming back), some wholesalers were expressing concerning over the possibility that too much R-22 is still being vented.

The second issue for the industry concerns shortfalls of R-22 that can only be overcome when reclaimed refrigerant works its way back into the production pipeline. This is considered critical for HCFC refrigerants, of which the most widely used - R-22 - will no longer be manufactured as a virgin refrigerant for use in the United States as of 2020. Of even more urgent concern, the production of new HCFCs will be ratcheted back significantly in 2010 and 2015, with the latter date being considered the year in which supplies of R-22 will fall short of demand.

“The HCFC phaseout will present large challenges to our industry,” said James Sweetman, president of Consolidated Refrigerant Solutions. “There clearly needs to be a step up in reclamation efforts to mitigate the impact of a phaseout.”

The issue of stockpiling R-22 as an alternative to reclamation could also have a negative impact, according to at least one reclaimer.

“Undoubtedly, R-22 is going to cost you much more and you are going to have to charge your customers even more,” said Dennis O’Meara of Refrigerant Exchange Corp. “Stockpiling of R-22 will start to put even more pressure on current supplies.”

But on the plus side, he said, “As prices climb, it will induce many HVACR technicians to be more conscious of recovery.”

One avenue for contractors to get recovered refrigerant to a reclaimer is to go through a local supply house, where the gas can be collected for bulk shipment.

ENVIRONMENTAL POSITIVES

Advocates of reclamation also point to the positive environmental impacts, noting that EPA-certified companies have procedures in place to deal with refrigerants in politically correct ways.

Ted Atwood, president of Polar Technology, said, “We are extensively involved in all matters regarding governmental and environmental compliance. For example, we measure the CO2 impact on each order by using our proprietary global warming calculator.”

“The primary incentive for refrigerant users to recover and reclaim should always be the law,” noted Gordon McKinney of ICOR International, which offers a reclaim program called Refri-Claim. “The industry consensus is that the best way to increase reclaim activities is for the EPA to enforce the law. This could be done by conducting random audits at the user-equipment owner level.”

Reclamation services continue to be fine tuned, with the ultimate goal of providing contractors with “the most convenient and hassle-free experience when finding an outlet for recovered gas,” said Consolidated’s Sweetman.

Admittedly, right now there could be costs for a contractor greater than stockpiling or venting. That could change.

“Going forward, we envision an environment where refrigerant reclamation is simple for every user, and creates a profit center for the contractor as well as the wholesale supply house,” said Jodi Crawford, marketing manager for Airgas Refrigerants.

Publication date: 12/01/2008