New Gases, New Challenges for Refrigerant Recovery Sector
HCs, natural, and semi-flammable refrigerants — the talk of the industry
LAS VEGAS — The supply of virgin R-22 allocations in the U.S. will be reduced from 17.6 million pounds in 2016 to 13.2 million pounds in 2017. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that 9.3 million pounds of refrigerant were reportedly reclaimed by EPA-certified reclaimers in 2015, of which 7.3 million pounds were R-22. That number is well below the EPA’s target of 25 million pounds of reclaimed R-22 annually.
Of course, reclaimers can only reclaim what contractors and technicians recover, and while the R-22 numbers may never match the hoped-for projections, the industry is already looking to the future and preparing to address new challenges in a post-hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) world that also is likely facing a phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
While there is much talk in the industry about hydrocarbons (HCs) and natural refrigerants and whether they should be recovered or vented, just as important is the topic of semi-flammable (A2L) refrigerants, such as R-32 and R-1234yf, said Bob Belvick, product manager, service tools, INFICON. The A2L classification from ASHRAE designates these refrigerants as low toxicity (A) and mildly flammable (2L). They fall between A1 (nonflammable) and A2 (lower flammability) on the classification spectrum. These refrigerants, Belvick said, are the result of continual efforts to create new refrigerants with reduced global warming potentials (GWPs).
“For A2L refrigerants, the question is whether they are safe for use with a standard recovery machine,” Belvick said. “The majority of recovery machine manufacturers do not specify if they are safe to use with A2L refrigerants.”
He added that INFICON’s Vortex Dual™ refrigerant recovery machine is independently certified by Intertek to be safe for use with A2L refrigerants as well as standard class III, IV, and V refrigerants.
Like Belvick, Steve Secord, vice president of sales, Refco Mfg. US Inc., sees the HFC phaseout and the resulting flammability concerns of replacement refrigerants as the major trend in the refrigerant recovery sector.
“The HFCs have to be replaced by something, and it appears that hydrofluoroolefins [HFOs] are gaining popularity,” Secord said. “The drawback is that HFOs have an increased flammability rating that affects how the recovery machines we sell have to operate. However, Refco sells worldwide, and HFOs are already being used quite significantly in some countries. We’ve already changed our 220V ENVIRO-DUO two-piston recovery machine so that it can be used with these mildly flammable refrigerants.”
Karl Johnson, director of engineering, Ritchie Engineering Co. Inc. – Yellow Jacket Products Division, also cited A2L refrigerants as being the next challenge for the refrigerant recovery sector.
According to Johnson, the A2L refrigerant R-32 is widely accepted as the next step for comfort cooling equipment, and indications are full acceptance is forthcoming in North America for its use in multi-unit systems. Internationally, requirements for service and recovery of R-32 systems vary by country and span the range of R-32 being treated as nonflammable to highly flammable.
“Current recovery and service standards lag and will need to be updated to allow for the service industry to design equipment and processes to safely recover and reclaim A2Ls,” Johnson said.
Johnson added that the recovery sector also faces a challenge with “custom” refrigerant blends, such as multi-component blends that are being designed and patented for use in HVACR equipment to replace higher GWP refrigerants. Complications can arise during recovery and reclamation; however, and the complications can be costly because the blends can be quite expensive.
“With a blend, the recovery process often fractionates the refrigerant as the vapor is recovered,” Johnson said. “This alters the original composition of the refrigerant put into the recovery tank and severely complicates the reclamation process. Equipment and processes need to be developed if these blends are to be reclaimed or recycled.”
At the AHR Expo, Yellow Jacket introduced the Omni™ digital vacuum gauge, which the company said is easy-to-use, compact, and rugged. Made with a high impact, glass-reinforced housing, the Omni is designed to survive moisture, accidental drops, or attachment to a high-pressure line.
ANALYSIS GAINS IMPORTANCE
Refrigerant analysis is becoming increasingly essential to the reclamation/reclaim industry, said Zachary Ziegler, product manager, HVACR & commercial division, Neutronics Inc.
According to Ziegler, the industry is aware that cross-contamination may occur during the recovery process. If analysis is completed before recovery, then consolidation and reuse of good refrigerant can occur rather than destruction or venting of contaminated refrigerants. Therefore, the refrigerants industry demands proper recovery and reclamation to stabilize refrigerant costs as new refrigerant production begins to decrease.
“With the supply of many of the popular refrigerants decreasing and the demand still high for these older refrigerants, proper recovery, recycling, and reuse is more important than ever,” Ziegler said. “Analyzing refrigerant before recovery and reclamation not only promotes better quality refrigerant but also promotes proper recovery practices that protect the ozone, reduce global warming risks, and provide a sustainable future.”
JB Industries Inc. showcased the F6 dual-piston refrigerant recovery unit.
Features include a 1-hp, dual-piston compressor, a microchannel condenser, and a large direct-drive fan. The 1-hp motor and large fan enable the F6 to maintain recovery rates, even in high-temperature conditions, and the microchannel condenser reduces discharge temperature, pressure and tank pressure, and overall temperature to help increase speed throughout the recovery cycle. Other features include a self-purge without the need to change hoses, two-valve operation, and a padded shoulder strap.
The recovery unit was featured as The NEWS’ 2016 Dealer Design Awards (DDA) gold winner in the Refrigeration and Ice Machines category
“The F6 dual-piston refrigerant recovery unit recovers refrigerant very quickly, especially when it comes to R-410A,” said David Madden, chief information officer, JB Industries.
Fieldpiece Instruments Inc. introduced the MR45 refrigerant recovery machine, a lightweight digital unit with a variable-speed, 1-horsepower, DC motor.
“The variable-speed motor operates based on the load so it runs at lower RPMs when pulling liquid and then switches to higher RPMs to maximize vapor recovery,” said Russ Harju, product marketing manager, Fieldpiece Instruments. “The extra-large condenser is a unique advantage because it cools the refrigerant faster, especially on hot days.”
The unit also features a digital display that presents precise measurements in large, backlit digits that are designed to be easy to see and read from far away, even in low-light situations.
Publication date: 2/27/2017