UK leads the world in refrigerant recovery


10 February 2022
Refrigerant management is one of the key solutions highlighted by A-Gas and Project Drawdown

A-Gas managing director John Ormerod explains how we are making progress in refrigerant reclamation and recovery but sets out why we must do more.

The UK tops the table in refrigerant recovery and reclamation. With wholesalers playing a key role in how our industry operates, we are gaining an enviable reputation globally for our skills in recovering refrigerant to be used again on the market. 

By using reclaimed refrigerant you displace the need to produce virgin refrigerants and this is an effective way for the industry to help reduce global warming and lower the carbon footprint of customers.

The F-Gas Regulation, with its emphasis on restricting the use of virgin gases, has created the environment to allow the UK to take advantage of the benefits of reclaimed refrigerant. Progress is being made in the UK as more and more contractors see the plus points of refrigerant recovery for reclamation and reuse.

This is a great example of regulation encouraging the Circular Economy – the opposite to the take, make and dispose business model which forces us to seek greater efficiencies and make better use of what we have already.

We have higher recovery rates than the rest of Europe but are we doing enough to incentivise the transition away from higher GWP refrigerants to more environmentally friendly alternatives? The recent European Environment Agency report of F-Gases found levels of reclamation had remained stubbornly low at around three per cent of the total supply to the market. After seven years of the F-Gas regulation, as an industry we should be doing better.

The key role played by reclaimed refrigerants in lowering our carbon footprint and reducing global warming should not be under-estimated. End users are starting to recognise this as they grapple with their own carbon footprint and look for ways to reduce it.

At A-Gas our twin aims to supply the lowest global warming refrigerants and promote the use of reclaimed gases also tie in with Project Drawdown – an initiative launched by scientists and environmentalist to highlight 100 solutions mankind can implement to slow down global warming.

A-Gas supports the aims of this initiative. Refrigerant management is one of the key solutions highlighted by Project Drawdown. Our message to visitors at COP26 which we attended in November was that refrigerant management can play an important role as we look to halt the effects of climate change. More than that we explained that effective refrigerant management is part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Reclaimed refrigerant sent to A-Gas reprocessing centres undergoes chemical analysis, is cleaned of contaminants and goes through our separation plant to create a product that matches that of virgin refrigerant specification. This refrigerant becomes fully reclaimed product and is returned to the market in line with the AHRI 700 standard. 

Reclaimed refrigerant is quota free and gases saved from disposal and returned to use also reduce raw material usage, energy consumption and unnecessary transport normally associated with virgin production.

Tools that make refrigerant recovery easier and quicken the process are valuable. A-Gas Rapid Recovery, the F-Gas compliant on-site recovery service, is a good example of how having the right equipment can make a difference. The ease with which the refrigerants are removed is made possible by our mobile A-Gas Rapid Recovery teams. 

They are used to getting their hands dirty and shifting refrigerant from equipment located in the most inaccessible of places. The quantities removed and the speed can be astonishing at times. The ingenuity employed by our teams to get the refrigerant out and into recovery cylinders and on board our vehicles rarely fails to impress me.

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Dealing with refrigerants that have reached the end of their useful lives is a crucial part of refrigerant management. While end-of-life recovery for destruction is currently mandated across Europe, unless it is incentivised, destruction rates will remain low and most unusable refrigerant will probably be vented illegally. This is likely to become a bigger problem when certain refrigerants are finally phased out or where demand no longer exists.

Complete refrigerant management capability

To further expand our services in dealing with the destruction of high global warming refrigerants unfit for further use A-Gas has made an important acquisition. A-Gas bought the entire business and intellectual property of Salience Solutions. This acquisition adds to our existing in-house destruction capability through the addition of PyroPlas plasma arc destruction technology for fluorocarbon and non-fluorocarbon gases.

A-Gas is spreading the message about the benefits of reclaimed refrigerant

This means that A-Gas can now offer the most complete refrigerant management capability in the world. Over some years A-Gas has enjoyed a good working relationship with the founders of Salience Solutions. We have bought technology and expertise from them in the past to grow our destruction capability in the US. 

We are pleased to be able to bring this team and technology into A-Gas so that we can offer similar end of life services to all our customers on a global basis.

The reclamation and destruction of refrigerants form part of a flourishing carbon offset market in the US. The offsets are generated by displacing the production of virgin refrigerants or, in some cases, the permanent removal of legacy CFC refrigerants through destruction. 

The offsets are verified by independent carbon registries. This pragmatic environmental solution – currently not adopted in the UK and across Europe – is speeding up the phase down of greater amounts of high global warming refrigerants and importantly providing an incentive to dispose of end-of-life refrigerants.

Greater amounts of high global warming refrigerants are being destroyed than ever before and we are also recovering and re-using larger quantities of gases – especially in the UK. Regulators have a key role to play in helping to shape the future of our planet by incentivising options for the reuse of refrigerants and facilitating the safe environmental disposal of these gases when they can no longer be used. 

The upcoming review of the F-Gas Regulation is an opportunity for the UK to be bold and lead the world. With climate change at stake, there is no doubt that each piece of the jigsaw is important in the bigger picture.