Reclaimed Refrigerants vs. Virgin Refrigerants

May 4, 2002
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Q: I need to buy refrigerants for immediate use. Should I buy virgin product or reclaimed?
A: Most people prefer to purchase virgin refrigerant for service requirements in manufacturer-branded and manufacturer-filled cylinders. The refrigerant manufacturers provide brand name recognition and assurances of purity and quality control, which are extremely important when purchasing refrigerants. A few individuals or companies prefer to purchase specifically reclaimed refrigerant, usually as a way of demonstrating their company’s commitment to protecting the environment and supporting recycling activities in general.

Q: Is all reclaimed refrigerant the same?
A: No. By law, all used refrigerant which is sold must be reclaimed and certified to the ARI-700 standard for refrigerant purity. How-ever, because reclamation is an exacting process, much of the refrigerant that is labeled “reclaimed” still falls short of this standard. You must rely upon the integrity and reputation of the reclaimer.

Q: Could there be a problem with reclaimed refrigerant that meets ARI-700?
A: Definitely. ARI-700 does not explicitly address or exclude contaminants that are not usually found in refrigerants. Depending upon its boiling point, ARI-700 would allow an unusual contaminant to be present in concentrations of between 100 parts per million and up to 0.5%.
Some contaminants (such as hydrocarbons and toxic gases) have been found in reclaimed refrigerant that met ARI-700 levels; these contaminants could have caused significant damage over time to the seals and gaskets in a system. In the event of a leak, there could have been physical harm to people.

Q: How can I tell if the reclaimed refrigerant I purchase is pure?
A: It’s not easy. Since refrigerants and contaminants are often colorless and odorless, the end user frequently cannot detect a problem until it’s too late. Proper screening requires laboratory equipment and precise testing.

Q: Is reclaimed refrigerant cheaper than virgin?
A: Not necessarily. Properly reclaimed refrigerant is identical to virgin refrigerant in purity and specification. A reputable reclaimer can provide reclaimed refrigerant that has undergone still more extensive testing and stringent quality control procedures than virgin product normally receives.

Q: I plan to purchase CFC refrigerants to stock up for future use. Should I buy virgin or reclaimed refrigerant?
A: That depends. You probably know that the federal CFC Floor Stocks Tax applies to virgin CFCs held for resale on Jan. 1 of each year in quantities of 400 lb or more. Therefore, you can certainly buy virgin refrigerant if you are an end user (the refrigerant is being purchased for your own company’s use and systems); or you stock less than 400 lb; or you use or sell the excess refrigerant over 400 lb prior to Dec. 31 of the purchase year. If any of these conditions are true, the virgin CFC refrigerant you hold on Jan. 1 will be exempt from the Floor Stocks Tax. Otherwise, you may want to consider purchasing reclaimed refrigerants, which are not subject to this tax.

Kestenbaum is vice president of Refron. For more information concerning issues covered in this article, call 800-473-3766 or visit www.refron.com (website).

Publication date: 05/06/2002

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