Effective and responsible refrigerant recovery


11 March 2020
There is no reason to fear that recovered refrigerants will not be available There is no reason to fear that recovered refrigerants will not be available

A-Gas Operations Director Rob Parker, pictured, explains why recovering refrigerant has grown in importance as the F-Gas step downs continue.

Effective and responsible refrigerant recovery should be a key component in the armoury of every successful refrigeration engineer. In the past five years the rapid pace of the F-Gas Regulations’ step downs has forced upon the industry many changes. With the availability of virgin refrigerant diminishing year on year the need to recover and re-use gases has grown.

As manufacturers respond to the F-Gas step downs by reducing the supplies of virgin product, the installer can no longer rely upon their refrigerant supplier to have enough virgin product to top up systems during routine maintenance or equipment upgrades. Reclaimed refrigerant is needed more and more to fill this gap. Some manufacturers have already announced that they will no longer sell virgin R404A – once the go-to gas for supermarkets.

This year, from January 1, virgin refrigerants with a GWP of 2500 or greater can no longer be used in new installations. Maintenance has also been affected as systems with a charge size of 40 tonnes CO2 equivalent or greater – more easily understood as around 10kgs of R404A – cannot be serviced using virgin material with this high GWP.
To cover all users, A-Gas supplies both virgin and reclaimed R404A.  If you are working on systems with less than 10kgs of R404A, virgin R404A is still an option but supplies are limited and we are urging installers and end users to make the switch to reclaimed gases – or low GWP alternatives – as soon as they can. 

For larger systems the use of virgin R404A is not legal, so reclaimed R404A must be used or the system retro-fitted to an alternative gas.  This means that under the quota mechanism refrigerant recovery and reclamation has grown in importance to allow end-users to keep existing high GWP equipment running.

Risk assessments
Amid all this change, systems still need to be serviced and the time constraints facing the engineer have not diminished. A typical supermarket or food processing plant upgrade or maintenance job is likely to take place over a weekend. The work may involve recovering refrigerant overnight to ensure business continues as usual. Time is of the essence for the engineer as they will be up against the clock to meet tight deadlines laid down by the customer. 
Not always an easy task but as we all know, effective and quick recovery requires good risk assessments in place before the job begins. It is essential that those working on the recovery job are F-Gas trained, have experience and confidence to deal with the system, and ultimately competence to complete the job without risk to themselves, their customer or the environment. On top of all of this, having the right paperwork and relevant site inductions to prove their competence is a key part of any recovery job.

Engineers should ensure they are aware of and follow the manufacturers installation and operating instructions while handling the system. The right gauges, hoses and cylinders need to be on hand to ensure that the job can be executed safely and efficiently. Higher pressure gases like R410A or R32 and other mildly-flammable A2Ls will need different equipment. 

Ammonia and highly flammable hydrocarbons will raise the bar even further safety-wise as the engineer looks to react to the demands of different gases. Such gases require specialist knowledge and training along with suitably rated equipment that is certified for use for the gas. When talking about highly flammable or toxic gases, risks cannot be taken in such circumstances. 

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With new generation gases emerging it is important that engineers receive the right training and have the right certification to handle all types of work. Failure to do so could lead to a hefty fine and in the worst instance could put lives at risk.

Once the recovery is complete, it is important that the waste product is returned to the refrigerant processor in the correct cylinders. Standard HFCs are sent back in normal recovery cylinders but if the engineer knows in advance that A2Ls are likely to feature they should ensure that they have the right recovery cylinders to handle these gases. 
A-Gas can supply suitable cylinders according to the product you are recovering – standard recovery cylinders, fluorinated recovery cylinders for R32 and HFOs and hydrocarbon receivers are all part of the product portfolio. If you are unsure on what you require, please do get in touch.

A-Gas supply a cylinder with a certified valve to cope with flammable refrigerants. Hydrocarbon or fluorinated gases – we will have the right cylinder for the job available to engineers.

If you want to take the stress out of recovery the A-Gas Rapid Recovery team will do the work for you. Rapid Recovery will take care of it from start to finish – handling all aspects of the job including hazardous waste documentation and job site reporting. It will also be significantly quicker and allows the engineer to get on with other onsite maintenance while the recovery process is taking place. 

Breathing space
Don’t forget that if you are recovering refrigerant yourself you will need to complete all the necessary hazardous waste paperwork – otherwise you will have the Environment Agency to answer to. You will need an authorised waste transfer note to transport and remove the waste from site and when the product is returned in a cylinder to the wholesaler. My advice if you are unsure is to talk to your refrigerant wholesaler or supplier. They are always happy to help.

As an industry we have responded well to the calls to re-use refrigerants. The amount of recovered refrigerant returned to the market is increasing and leakage rates continue to drop. 

Awareness that recovered product is available on the market to use until 2030 is beginning to increase. Investment has been made in A-Gas’ reclamation technology to meet demand of this reprocessed product. 

I can reassure you that there’s no need to fear that recovered refrigerants won’t be available. As long as engineers recover gases responsibly – ensuring that we don’t release further emissions into the atmosphere – the greater the amount of refrigerant that will be returned and reprocessed for further use by the industry. 

Simply introducing systems using new generation refrigerants is not always the answer to the customer’s needs. It makes little sense to destroy usable equipment worth millions of pounds if reclaimed product is there and available to use. Reclaimed refrigerant will continue to play an increasing role as equipment longevity is extended which in turn provides breathing space to the end user as they assess their options.

There is no shelf life to recovered refrigerant. Each molecule can be recovered by the processor to allow the refrigerant to be returned to a pure gas time and time again. Over time new generation refrigerants will slowly drive the phase out of HFC gases and only then when this is completed will this recovered product be no longer needed. In this respect the likes of R404A will be around and ready to use in recovered form for many years to come.

There is no reason to fear that recovered refrigerants will not be available