The EPA and much of the industry said one way to overcome this possible shortfall was for contractors to take better advantage of reclamation.
This caused me to wonder about the reclaim sector and how involved with it were contractors. The result was an article that appears on the cover of this issue.
The methodology was hardly scientific. I basically just sent out e-mails to the dozen or so reclaim companies who had previously responded to a survey conducted late last year about incentives reclaimers offer to contractors. I asked for open-ended responses to general questions. I wasn’t interested in percentages since in this industry getting hard total numbers of anything from units shipped to pounds of refrigerant is a tricky thing, thus making a percentage of a vague number not very illuminating.
But the open-ended feedback proved far more revealing. Reclaimers pointed to an infrastructure in place to get questionable R-22 that may not meet ARI-700 standards of purity to a place where it can be brought back to ARI-700 and reintroduced into the market. Every pound reintroduced could mean one pound less of virgin R-22 needed.
For the most part, the reclaimers did not see large amounts of refrigerant coming to them despite what they said were a wide variety of mechanisms to do so. They did admit the return process is a work in progress and, like with anything new, it has both cost and learning curve issues.
But it is just those cost and learning curve issues that are causing contractors not to put their refrigerant into the reclaim pipeline to any great extent.
For all the incentives and systems in place to move refrigerant to reclaim, the contractors use words like “I got little or no help in terms of establishing a cost-effective way of dealing with R-22,” “I have not found a reclaim program in my area that would pay me for the refrigerant,” and “How is the system working? It is broken.”
THE INFRASTRUCTURERegardless of how well the infrastructure is in place to get refrigerant to reclaimers, the contractors who responded did not feel it was well enough in place to make it worthwhile.
So what is happening to the refrigerant? From what I hear, contractors are recovering and doing onsite reclamation and then reintroducing the gas to a system. I’m guessing that if there is any question regarding the purity of the gas, they are erring on the side of assuming it is clean enough to reintroduce without subjecting it to reclaim.
What I am also hearing is that R-22 is still being vented. One contractor said that many of his new hires came from companies where no recovery was being done. I’m suspecting he is not alone in seeing this.
SORTING OUTThe situation will sort itself out. Right now, the EPA list of certified reclaimers numbers more than 50. Ironically, when recovery manufacturers first came into the industry more than 20 years ago there were more than 50. Today there are maybe a half dozen companies making recovery units for the HVACR market. I’m suspecting over the years, the current number of reclaim companies will dwindle down as well.
Contractors also will become more motivated to return gas for reclaim as the process becomes more streamlined and cost effective – and the cost of virgin R-22 gets too costly.
The unanswered question is will the sorting out come before the shortfall of virgin R-22? If the shortfall comes as early as 2010, the sorting out had better be really rapid.