Refrigerant reclamation and recovery


09 May 2017
A-Gas is working with the shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh to recycle refrigerants
John Ormerod A-Gas refrigerant
A-Gas Managing Director John Ormerod explains why these areas of the industry will grow in prominence in the coming years as the switch to low GWP refrigerants gathers pace. 

​Reclamation will play an increasingly key role as the F-Gas stepdowns shape the future of refrigeration and air conditioning. The industry is predicting a growth in reclamation as a result of the restrictions in the supply of high GWP refrigerants under the F-Gas Regulations.

Supplies of reclaimed refrigerant are crucial to ensure that there is enough gas on the market to meet demand. As a result of this, A-Gas is in the process of more than doubling its reclamation capacity by building a new separator on its site at Portbury near Bristol.

The new equipment will enable the reclamation of mixed refrigerants received from customers across Europe. A-Gas has been a pioneer of refrigerant processing for more than ten years. Using fractional distillation technology, mixed refrigerant products that would otherwise be consigned for destruction can be separated and restored back to international standards. 

A-Gas reclaims thousands of tonnes of refrigerant a year across the world making it one of the leaders in the market. Recently one of my colleagues, UK Business Development Manager Martin O’Donnell, was in Bangladesh talking to government officials and representatives of the shipbreaking industry about the benefits of reclaiming refrigerants.

Safety standards
Those attending this meeting of the Safe and Environmentally Sound Ship Recycling project wanted to hear how reclamation can make a real difference to a country’s environmental credentials. Bangladesh is the largest shipbreaking nation in the world – handling up to 230 vessels a year – but standards of safety and environmental practice do need improvement.

New international laws are forcing shipbreakers to raise their game in how they dispose of what’s left of the old vessels and this includes restricted gases used onboard in refrigeration and air conditioning – among them R12 and R22 – and other ozone-depleting substances including Halons employed for fighting fires at sea. 

Martin was able to explain to the Bangladesh government and the shipbreaking industry how A-Gas can help them recycle their unwanted refrigerants and how this will allow them to highlight the best environmental practice.

The response from the Bangladesh government and the shipbreakers was very positive and A-Gas is now looking at ways in which it can help the industry recycle gases to their advantage at a local level. 

Pressure on resources is rising across the globe and so optimising each part of the recycling process is becoming increasingly important. It is in the interests of the industry where ever it is to recover as much refrigerant as possible and send it back up the supply chain. 

That’s why the time is right to look carefully at the mechanics of recovery and how you can take it to a new level. Recovery plays a crucial role in the retrofit process but you have to make sure that you have the right tools for the job before you start.

In the UK there are rising demands on contractors to carry out refrigerant retrofits as the move away from high GWP refrigerants gathers pace. Quota systems laid down by the F-Gas Regulations mean that in 2018 there will be a 37% reduction in the supply of virgin HFCs on a CO2 equivalent basis. There will be a shortage of high GWP gases which will force contractors and end-users to rethink what they are doing. In turn the opportunities to introduce low GWP alternatives will grow.  

What’s more, the stepdowns from high GWP gases will continue through to 2030 and possibly beyond. So there is so much work that needs to be undertaken in this area over the next few years. Engineers and contractors will need to look at all parts of the retrofit programme and figure out the best way to optimise what they do.

Bigger systems
Recovery is often the part of the process that gets overlooked but unfortunately this can be the element that can take the longest. Bear in mind that if the system is not particularly well designed it may take several more hours than you had bargained for to get the liquid refrigerant out. There may also be other issues where the refrigerant gets trapped in the system and has to boil more slowly.

Most contractors in the UK are using what are called buzz boxes – small hand-held units which have fairly low recovery rates. But in the context of a supermarket pack retrofit there may be several hundred kgs of refrigerant to recover and this will take a considerable amount of time to complete. 

You may recover 50-60% of the charge as liquid and find that the remaining vapour takes many hours to recover. So it’s important that installers factor this into their planning before they undertake the work.

The technology and the equipment will have to step up to meet the challenge which has been laid down by the F-Gas Regulations. Hand-held units won’t be enough to meet the demands of bigger systems. You can be sure that recovery and reclamation will rise in prominence in the coming years as the industry looks to retrofit and recycle as part of the switch to low GWP refrigerants.
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