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According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the total amount of R-22 that was reclaimed in 2018 (the last date for which data is available) dipped slightly when compared to 2017 (see Table 1). In 2017, the agency reported that 8,680,022 pounds of R-22 were reclaimed, while in 2018, 8,041,474 pounds of R-22 were reclaimed.

Many in the HVACR industry are following these numbers closely, given that the production and importation of R-22 ceased at the beginning of 2020. There is a large installed base of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment that still uses R-22, so once virgin supplies are exhausted, reclaimed refrigerant will be the only source available. However, most experts agree that there will be no shortage of R-22 any time soon.


Readily Available Refrigerant

R-22 is currently readily available all over the U.S., said Carl Grolle, president of Golden Refrigerant, who added that he did not know of any wholesaler who has not been able to find and stock R-22 for this season.

“With the wholesalers all stocked, I would be surprised to see a shortage occur in the near future,” he said. “That said, demand for R-22 last year was soft, and the prices of HFCs at the wholesale level were at rock bottom. It was a very challenging year for our industry.”

The good news is that the overall supply and demand tend to balance each other out, said Grolle, so if the supply of R-22 starts to become scarce, the price rises and more alternative blends are sold. Then, as alternative blends replace R-22 in systems, more R-22 is returned to reclaimers.

“Being 10 years out from the last new R-22 equipment being installed, the market has had time to find its balance,” he said. “I don’t believe we will see much change from the current price and supply for the next few years.”

National Refrigerants containers.

RETROFIT PLANS: As more companies develop and implement their R-22 retrofit plans, National Refrigerants expects more recovered R-22 to be returned for reclamation.

National Refrigerants has seen consistent returns of recovered R-22 over the past few years, said the company’s executive vice president, Maureen Beatty. As more companies develop and implement their R-22 retrofit plans, Beatty expects more recovered R-22 to be returned for reclamation and subsequent use by those who still have a demand for it.

“National Refrigerants’ experience is that many of our customers are banking their reclaimed R-22 with us so that they can utilize it when and where they need it,” she said. “However, the COVID-19 situation is causing many companies to delay their retrofitting plans, so there likely will be some interruption in the quantity of R-22 being returned until the country is open for business again.”

As of today, however, there is enough R-22 being recovered and reclaimed to support the installed base of equipment for the foreseeable future, said Beatty. And as companies continue to retrofit R-22 systems, their recovered R-22 will be reclaimed and made available to support the installed base that has been unable to convert.

“If we consider that CFCs are still available, albeit in dwindling quantities today, more than 20 years after their production was phased out, it is reasonable to expect that supplies of R-22 will be available for those who need it for many more years to come,” she said.


Mixing Different Refrigerants

If contractors want to ensure a steady supply of R-22, though, they should make sure that they are not mixing different refrigerants in their recovery cylinders.

“We are seeing more mixed refrigerants coming in through the recovery and reclamation streams,” said Taylor Ferranti, vice president of refrigerants at A-Gas. “With our separation technology, we are able to bring these products on grade, but it does take more time and effort. Contractors should be sure to only recharge equipment with AHRI-700 certified material, use separate recovery cylinders for each refrigerant type, and not ‘top off’ systems with different refrigerant types.”

Using a gas chromatograph at Golden Refrigerant, an employee analyzes the composition of a refrigerant sample.

ANALYZING REFRIGERANT: Using a gas chromatograph at Golden Refrigerant, an employee analyzes the composition of a refrigerant sample.

Golden Refrigerant is also seeing a lot of mixed refrigerants being turned in, primarily R-22 mixed with components from some of the popular replacement blends.

“The issue is that our most valuable resource is being collected by the least trained technicians,” said Grolle. “Residential contractors are under a lot of price pressure, and quick work is often favored over thorough service practices.”

Receiving mixed refrigerants from residential air conditioning equipment is also a concern at National Refrigerants. That’s because supermarket systems are more likely to be serviced by the same contracting company as part of a maintenance agreement, while air conditioning systems, especially residential systems, are not, said Beatty.

“When we contact the companies that have returned recovered refrigerant, more times than not, they say that the system was not marked properly and that is how the refrigerant became mixed,” she said. “Another source of mixing can be attributed to not evacuating the hoses that are used between service calls. And if a technician uses the same recovery cylinder on different jobs, there is a risk of cross contamination. Good service practices can help to prevent unintentional mixing of recovered refrigerants.”

Over 15 years ago, National began offering a one-time use recovery cylinder that Beatty said is perfect for smaller recovery jobs. It not only allows technicians to use a brand new cylinder for each recovery job, but if the recovered refrigerant turns out to be mixed, they know it was mixed in the system prior to them servicing the system.


Ready For A2ls

Next up for reclaimers is devising a plan to work with the new A2L refrigerants such as R-32 and R-454B, which are mildly flammable and may soon become more widely used in the U.S. While the physical reclamation process for A1 and A2L refrigerants is the same, said Ferranti, reclaimers will need to design or modify existing equipment to meet additional safety requirements.

“In addition, contractors will need recovery equipment that is rated for A2L recoveries,” he said. “A-Gas has already designed — and has in use — reclaim and separation capabilities to handle A2L refrigerants globally.”

Contractors will also need to follow all the proper safety protocols for the recovery of A2L refrigerants, which include never using A2L recovery cylinders to recover A1 refrigerants, said Beatty.

“The recovery cylinder will have to be identified for flammable refrigerants by having a red band on the cylinder,” she said. “In addition, AHRI’s Guideline M specifies what outlet should be used for cylinders being used for flammable refrigerants, including A2L refrigerants. AHRI has also just convened a working group that will address the issues related to the recovery and reclamation of A2L refrigerants to facilitate the industry’s safe transition to mildly flammable refrigerants.”

As can be seen, there is a lot going on with reclaimers these days, and Grolle noted that it can sometimes be exhausting.

“I worry more for the smaller reclaimers, particularly as the traditional profit margins start narrowing as R-22 leaves the marketplace,” he said. “The technical details needed to work with the newer blended refrigerants, as well as the safety protocols we will likely have to adopt with the A2L refrigerants, might be more costly than a locally based reclaimer can handle.”

ODS Refrigerant Reclamation Totals by Year (pounds)

  CFC-11 CFC-12 CFC-13 CFC-113 CFC-114 CFC-502 HCFC-22 HCFC-123 HCFC-124 HCFC-500 HCFC-503 Total
2000 1,548,734 1,679,526 1,978 229,954 182,544 619,579 7,094,995 250,811 - 245,530 - 11,853,651
2001 1,182,130 1,296,745 1,485 162,572 100,581 249,604 4,320,103 212,568 - 188,981 - 7,714,769
2002 1,411,133 1,237,060 343 143,404 288,084 330,170 4,915,809 179,481 - 184,104 8,591 8,698,179
2003 903,731 623,245 - 110,425 394,091 90,749 4,356,619 110,022 - 90,344 - 6,679,226
2004 1,188,360 720,181 - 129,134 281,958 105,536 7,231,013 250,842 - 137,300 - 10,044,324
2005 985,184 593,345 - 107,985 70,086 55,181 6,172,133 319,539 - 74,278 - 8,377,731
2006 1,188,230 738,482 - 133,511 48,824 113,879 8,535,423 318,241 - 96,668 - 11,173,258
2007 891,687 460,594 1,389 162,773 26,400 75,431 8,191,322 227,323 - 41,518 - 10,078,437
2008 989,234 476,726 - 175,568 310,321 88,040 10,045,071 272,583 - 195,724 60 12,553,327
2009 1,026,824 212,638 224 135,301 16,554 136,936 7,544,327 436,463 - 118,847 46 9,628,160
2010 713,747 350,139 212 170,130 77,161 27,522 7,907,536 316,595 270 107,808 13 9,671,133
2011 719,036 291,869 68 151,887 327,537 41,448 8,290,406 335,760 74 43,430 30 10,201,545
2012 784,061 328,582 357 306,157 39,797 30,748 9,401,446 316,340 439 108,221 148 11,316,296
2013 736,126 372,521 185 36,166 415,399 15,689 8,701,264 445,854 1,088 48,616 395 10,773,303
2014 812,357 406,436 849 22,293 18,238 24,587 7,823,982 374,357 3,611 42,453 108 9,529,271
2015 740,543 288,302 118 217,007 6,370 15,771 7,811,832 399,683 199 33,171 32 9,513,028
2016 574,826 155,254 155 30,710 182,121 15,719 9,408,329 415,516 4,251 16,842 30 10,803,753
2017 905,045 263,957 1,292 86,361 10,461 27,206 8,680,022 592,256 396 32,665 184 10,599,845
2018 565,158 191,711 521 25,757 4,067 28,767 8,041,474 535,673 1,059 51,366 103 9,445,656

*Other CFCs and HCFCs that are reported in small quantities (e.g., CFC-115 and HCFC-142b) or that are contained in blends with non-ODS (e.g., R-408A) are excluded. EPA also revised the 2017 data based on updated reporting.

HFC Refrigerant Reclamation Totals by Year (pounds)

  HFC-23 HFC-134a HFC-227ea HFC-404A HFC-407A HFC-407C HFC-410A Other HFCs Total
2017 1,175 1,858,132 154,655 486,719 111,255 167,445 2,103,404 119,036 5,001,821
2018 841 1,910,240 248,178 506,639 143,254 167,248 2,043,667 138,920 5,158,987

Total Refrigerant Received by Year (pounds)

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
9,236,784 9,126,931 10,517,538 11,615,679 10,240,152 11,880,770 16,156,808 17,349,088 18,025,930

**Reclaimers were not required to include HFC refrigerants in reports of total amount received until 2017.

Mixed Refrigerant Received Totals by Year (pounds)

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
77,038 121,718 86,146 93,807 113,883 221,159 924,475 375,671 975,271

***Mixed refrigerant is material received by reclaimers that contains multiple refrigerants, including ODS and HFCs, potentially in unknown quantities and composition. These are not blends, which contain specific constituents at specific ratios. Mixed refrigerant totals are included in the Total Refrigerant Received table.

TABLE 1: According to the EPA, the total amount of R-22 that was reclaimed in 2018 dipped slightly when compared to 2017.