Refrigerants: reclaim to the rescue


12 August 2020

A-Gas Commercial Director Enzo D’Alessio explains why reclaimed refrigerant is a good choice for engineers during servicing.

Reclaimed refrigerant has the potential to be the star performer that helps the fridge industry meet the F-Gas Regulation step downs. 

With the next phase due to come into effect at the start of 2021, and various bans on the use of gases with greater than 2,500 GWP having been implemented at the start of this year, closing the loop in the circular economy through reclamation is going to play a critical role in ensuring our industry meets its environmental obligations.

Industry experts know that refrigerants saved from disposal and returned to use as reclaimed gas can make a direct contribution to the phase down. Using reclaimed refrigerant is a direct way of lowering the carbon footprint of your customers.

Reclaimed refrigerant is a gas that has been reprocessed by a licensed facility to the industry standard AHRI 700 to match the quality of virgin product. It is refrigerant that is purified, certificated and guaranteed. 

Reclaimed refrigerant sent to A-Gas reprocessing centres has been recovered from the market and is reprocessed. At Portbury near Bristol this used refrigerant undergoes chemical analysis, is cleaned of contaminants and goes through our separation plant to produce a product that matches that of virgin refrigerant requirements. 

By using reclaimed refrigerant there is the benefit that you do not need to import new virgin material to meet supply. A further advantage is gained as you will be saving on the raw material usage, energy consumption and unnecessary transport normally associated with virgin production.

Choosing between reclaiming or recycling refrigerant can present the engineer with an onsite dilemma. The option of recycling a gas can seem attractive in the first instance.

A basic, quick and cheap clean-up of the old refrigerant and a return to the same system can seem an easy fix but are you making the right decision? With recycling there is no guarantee that all the impurities have been removed and that the refrigerant conforms to AHRI 700 standards.

The vast majority of refrigerants in use are blends. Refrigerants are becoming increasingly complex and normally comprise of multiple components. Most mid to low GWP mixtures contain a blend of HFCs and HFOs – and some even contain CO2. They all have different boiling points and behave differently within the blend. 

The difference in the maximum and minimum boiling point of the various mixtures that make up the blend is described as the glide of the refrigerant. If there is a leak in the vapor phase of a system, the components with the lower boiling points will escape preferentially to those with higher boiling points. 

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Depending on where the leak occurs what’s left in the system may not be the same blend as you started with. For example, the R407 family of products has a glide of up to six degrees and returning this mixture to the system with a basic clean-up may be storing up problems for the future.

If you return this mixture as a recycled refrigerant, together with contaminants like oil and moisture to the system, the implications can be wide ranging and can lead to poorer performance, higher energy use and increased costs in the running and maintenance of the system in the long term. 

If you have had a leak ignore the recycle option and choose a recharge of virgin – where permitted – or reclaimed gas instead. You then know that what you are putting in the system is exactly what it says on the cylinder.

Enzo D'Alessio of A-Gas

During the lockdown A-Gas reclamation facilities remained operational, as have our other critical onsite services to customers. This has helped meet the needs of essential suppliers to the emergency services, health care, supermarkets, food processing and transport industries during the pandemic. 

Our robust supply chain has ensured that the availability of gases has not been affected. With restricted working practices in place what has had an influence is the slowdown in construction together with supermarkets and food processors only able to give the go-ahead for essential maintenance.

The difficulties associated with having too many people onsite hampered efforts to ensure the same level of pro-active servicing and left refrigeration contractors having to furlough staff to deal with the downturn. In this respect there’s no doubt that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the refrigeration industry.

Hospitality and retail are struggling as the slow return to normality happens. This is having an effect on our industry as work in pubs, restaurants and High Street shops produces a large amount of business for manufacturers and installers. On the bright side, supermarkets and convenience stores have continued with business as usual as the food supply chain remains unbroken.

Taking the longer view, with more people still working from home we may also see a growth in the domestic air conditioning market as they miss the comfort cooling they take for granted in the office.

What cannot be denied is that refrigeration has been recognised as a key player during the pandemic. The positives and negatives of the lockdown are emerging but we are still uncertain where they will take us. There are, though, some developments you can rely on. Whatever happens to the economy, reclaimed refrigerant is here to stay and will play a leading role in the step downs as the F-Gas Regulation marches on.