Refrigerant recovery is the essential first step in the reclamation process.
Refrigerant recovery is the essential first step in the reclamation process.

In many ways, refrigerant recovery and reclamation is an example of human ingenuity at its best. An innovative and essential product is created, and then a way is devised to prolong its usefulness by collecting it after years of service, purifying it, and using it again.

This process, however, hinges on the product (in this case, refrigerant) being properly collected and returned to the right people (certified reclaimers). The best intentions of the industry go for naught if the process isn’t made attractive to those doing the collecting in the field. That means reclaimers must reach out to contractors regarding their services to ensure the process moves along as it should.

Taylor Ferranti, director of sales – refrigerants, A-Gas Americas, said contractors should always remember refrigerant recovery is a source of profit, not frustration.

“At A-Gas Americas, we strive to provide a prompt, easy transaction with fair payment and the necessary documentation, so our customers can move on to their next projects,” Ferranti said.

Bill Auriemma, CEO, Diversified Pure Chem, agreed, cash continues to be the biggest incentive to encourage reclamation.

“Today, it is rare for a contractor to pay recovery or reclamation fees because R-22 has value; what used to be a loss is now a profit,” he said. “R-22 buy-back rates are competitive and aligned with market conditions. This is an ideal time for contractors to sell their recovered R-22. In addition to making a profit, they will help the industry meet its R-22 needs.”

Auriemma added that Diversified Pure Chem believes education is key to helping contractors both comply with EPA regulations and financially benefit from reclamation.

“We spread the word through our sales team, website, and marketing materials, and, in the process, we’ve helped thousands of contractors discover a new revenue stream,” he said.

Kevin Zugibe, CEO, Hudson Technologies, pointed out that reclaimed R-22 has become an increasingly important part of the supply chain now that the EPA has implemented its final phasedown rule. Equipment utilizing R-22 will remain in use for years, if not decades, and contractors need to participate in a reclaim program to ensure access to a future supply of R-22 with which to service their customers.

“Contractors should expect that, through participation in a reclaim program, their recovery of refrigerants will become a meaningful source of revenue and improve their overall operations,” Zugibe said.

Contractors have been doing a good job of recovering refrigerants, but there is more to reclamation than that, noted Bob Kussel, vice president, Consolidated Refrigerant Solutions Inc. For example, contractors should have a full-service, complete cylinder management and recordkeeping reclaim program.

“Every contractor should have safe, refurbished, evacuated, sealed, and Department of Transportation [DOT]-compliant recovery cylinders from their reclamation company at all times,” Kussel said. “They need EPA-compliant recordkeeping that can also sort by job number or work order to provide individual reports to their clients when requested. This recordkeeping is vital to contractors if the EPA audits them.”

Gordon McKinney, vice president and COO, ICOR Intl., added most refrigerant users willfully comply with existing regulations and understand the importance of having a safe and responsible refrigerant recovery and reclamation program. But, reclaim companies have experienced a sharp increase over the last two years in the amount of mixed refrigerant being processed, he said, and most of those materials are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) being mixed with R-22.

“Mixing refrigerants with different compositions can lead to a dramatic loss in system performance and system longevity,” McKinney said. “Reusing recovered R-22 that has not been properly analyzed for composition and processed through a legitimate reclaim company is a dangerous practice. The safest and best long-term, cost-effective policy is to return all recovered refrigerant to an EPA-certified reclamation company for processing.”

Making it Attractive

Reclaimers differ on some points of the process, but they all are striving to make recovery and reclamation as easy as possible for contractors and technicians.

“We reach out by letting contractors know the programs and services they need should be the most efficient, compliant, hands-off, and profitable for them,” Kussel said. “Wasting precious manhours at wholesalers or doing in-house consolidation detracts from the bottom line. Never mixing refrigerants is extremely important. That leads to costly destruction fees.”

Kussel noted payouts for valuable refrigerants should increase as the market value of refrigerants and quantity returned go up. If contractors return more, they should earn more. “Contractors should never have to compete with their refrigerant service providers for a recovery job,” he added. “Consolidated Refrigerant Solutions offers its services only to mechanical contractors.”

Debra Goodge, reclaim programs manager, DuPont Chemicals & Fluoroproducts, said DuPont distributors set up as authorized refrigerant reclaim centers offer value and options for R-22 to positively impact the amount of R-22 that may be reclaimed in 2015 and beyond.

“Contractors can learn about BuyBack, explore R-22 banking options, and locate a DuPont authorized refrigerant reclaim center by visiting,” she recommended.

McKinney said cylinder swap programs, such as ICOR’s Simple Swap, are facilitated by the wholesale distribution channel and are designed to be hassle-free and economically practical.

Carl Grolle, owner and president, Golden Refrigerant, agreed, stating his company primarily works behind the scenes through a network of wholesalers.

“We feel contractors naturally are visiting wholesale supply houses, and that is the most convenient place for them to exchange their recovered refrigerant for empty cylinders,” Grolle said. “So, going forward, our model would have the contractors working even closer with their wholesalers on managing their refrigerant supply.

“Some of the other reclaimers pursue the contractors individually and get the R-22 directly from them,” Grolle added. “That’s fine. It’s a free market, and the R-22 has value. But, if we can find a good solution that’s presented to the wholesaler, there can be a consistent solution that applies not just with R-22, but with all refrigerants.”

Zugibe said Hudson Technologies has more than 1,600 wholesaler reclaim centers nationwide that participate in the company’s Clean Exchange Program.

“Under our program, contractors can bring their recovered refrigerant to any of these wholesalers, receive cash or a store credit for the recovered R-22, and leave with a clean, empty cylinder,” Zugibe said. “If the contractor has large volumes of recovered refrigerant stockpiled at his shop, Hudson can work directly with the contractor to pick up recovered refrigerant and drop off clean, empty cylinders.

Ferranti reminded contractors to ensure they are working with an EPA-certified reclamation company when selling recovered refrigerants.

“The benefit of working with A-Gas Americas comes from trusting a company that has a presence on five continents and 20 years’ worth of refrigerant life cycle management,” he said. “We are here for our customers, ensuring long-term relationships are built on trust and service.”

Jay Kestenbaum, senior vice president, sales and purchasing, Airgas Inc., said his company has significantly invested in technologies and processes to encourage contractors to recover refrigerants, sell them to Airgas, and receive the best market price. The largest incentive to do so is availability of future supply — especially in this last five years of R-22 production in the U.S.

“Airgas advertises in many industry publications, highlighting our reclamation services and the fact that future supplies will be dependent upon the recovery and reclamation of substantial quantities for many years,” Kestenbaum said. “The continued need for contractors and end users can be more easily fulfilled with the proper planning for future needs and especially guaranteed by working with Airgas in our various programs, such as banking and other product-supply programs customized for our customer requirements.

“Additionally, the unique capabilities we provide in the testing of recovered refrigerants via Airgas Refrigeration are extremely accurate, allowing contractors to receive a great price for their used refrigerant returns as well as payment within 30 days,” he said. “By testing recovered refrigerants twice with a GC mass spectrometer, we ensure our customers know exactly what is in their cylinders, and we assure they are paid accordingly.”

The Big Picture

Goodge said it’s important to remember reclamation is part of a bigger picture. She pointed out the final EPA schedule is a five-year accelerated phaseout with a 57 percent decrease in consumption allowances in 2015 and further reductions each year until production of R-22 halts in 2020. The five-year accelerated plan starts at the lowest allocation level of all of the EPA-proposed options for 2015 and 2016.

“Because of this, contractors should be working with customers to develop a transition plan, suggesting they repair and reduce leaks; retrofit to an HFC refrigerant; utilize recovery, and reuse as stated in the owner’s equipment; reclaim to get value for their R-22 asset; and replace equipment when it reaches the end of its life,” Goodge said.

Auriemma said he sees 2015 as a year of preparation.

“With current and allotted supplies, contractors should not have difficulty securing product,” he said. “However, now is the time to start thinking about 2016, 2017, and beyond. As the years pass, the industry will increasingly rely on reclaimers to fill the R-22 supply demand gap. While R-22 production and importation is capped and will be phased out, reclamation will be critical to maintaining supply. By partnering with a reclaimer, contractors can help secure R-22 now and in the future.”

Publication date: 4/6/2015