Fresh on the heels of our review of the latest information on refrigerants, this issue of The News offers a look at the refrigerant recovery sector. Like its refrigerant counterpart, recovery has been an ever-changing and sometimes confusing aspect of the market.

Just about the time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was targeting various refrigerants for phaseout, it was also requiring technicians to use equipment that would allow them to remove refrigerant from a system and put it into a holding tank to be either reintroduced to the system once a repair was done, or to transport that refrigerant to a reclamation facility.

In the early, early days, there were those who insisted they could build their own recovery units in their backyards. Indeed, The News ran some do-it-yourself stories about those.

But the main impetus behind the rise in recovery equipment numbers was the EPA requirement that every contractor own such a unit. This resulted in two developments. The first was a sudden influx of manufacturers bringing products to the market. Some of these folks came over from the automotive sector, and some manufacturers came from ... well, to this day we are not sure where some of those guys came from ... or where they went.

The second development was the arrival of some super-low-cost recovery units, whose sole purpose was to be in the back of a service van or in a contractor's shop in case an EPA inspector showed up. Some of those bare-bones models probably could not have done a very good job, or would have taken forever to pull a charge. But legally the contractor was protected.

Practical Considerations

When the cost of refrigerants rose and supplies dwindled, recovery became a more practical and cost-effective process. At the same time, the fly-by-night manufacturers started disappearing and the industry started relying on what eventually evolved into a handful of manufacturers.

The sector is still evolving. Acquisitions are changing the names and ownership of some recovery unit models. Some models are sold from one manufacturer to another.

In general, what we have now are familiar manufacturers making reliable units and standing behind what they sell. The article "Fewer Companies, But Plenty Of Options" in this issue is based on some of what was being shown at the most recent International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition. It doesn't cover everybody in the industry making units, but it does present an overview.

(The News welcomes recovery unit manufacturers to provide information on their latest products on a regular basis for use throughout the year in our What's New section.)

We encourage contractors and technicians to keep up on the latest technologies. Don't just rely on that unit that has been in the back of the van for seven, eight, nine, or more years. New technologies are worth looking at - and in the end may offer a more cost-effective way to work.

Peter Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260, 847-622-7266 (fax), or peterpowell@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 03/01/2004