Springtime means many different things to many different people: Love in the air; baseball, golf, and grilling; shorts and sunscreen; a rebirth; a triumph of the dogged determination of life to begin anew after winter.  Or, for those in the refrigeration industry, spring of 2017 means just three more cooling seasons until the only R-22 on the market will be what’s available through reclaimers or in individual inventories (a.k.a. stockpiles).

No one knows how much R-22 is stockpiled, but on the reclaim side of the equation the numbers are low.

For 2015, the total amount of refrigerant reclaimed by EPA-certified reclamation companies was 9.4 million lbs., 7.7 million of which was R-22. In 2014, 9.6 million lbs. total were reclaimed, of which 7.9 million lbs. was R-22, and in 2013 the numbers were 10.9 million lbs. total and 8.9 million of R-22. Even at their best, those numbers are well below the amount of R-22 the Environmental Protection Agency had forecasted would need to be reclaimed each year to offset the supply deficit – generally estimated at about 25 million lbs.

Let’s take a look at some possible reasons for the low reclaim numbers on R-22.

● Technicians aren’t recovering the refrigerant. (I find this one hard to believe. 1. Our industry is better than that. 2. R-22 is an expensive commodity. 3. The penalties for venting are severe.)

● R-22 is being recovered but is being stockpiled for use in the same customer’s system(s).

● R-22 is being recovered but is then being (illegally) reused in other customers’ systems.

● R-22 is being recovered but is being held onto by contractors waiting for higher prices.

● R-22 is being recovered but much of it is contaminated and can’t be reclaimed.   

● The EPA’s estimates of how much refrigerant would come back for reclamation were off.

These are the reasons I could think of but I certainly never pretend that I know everything. So I’d like to like to hear from you. Why are the reclaim numbers low, and what can the industry do about it?

I once had a reclaimer tell me no one is really sure how much R-22 exists. There is no central reserve of the refrigerant, and no requirement for suppliers to report how much they have stockpiled.

“It’s like drinking out of a straw when you don’t know how much is left in the cup,” he said. “All you know is that as long as you pull on it there’s something there, and right now there’s something there.”

For now, there is a supply of R-22 available to contractors who are tugging on the straw. But unless the reclaim numbers improve, that supply will be short-lived.

Publication date 4/4/2017

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