What is Refrigerant Recovery

There is a multitude of reasons refrigerant recovery is needed, but regardless of the reason, it’s imperative to do it safely and efficiently while keeping an eye on the bottom line.

There is a multitude of reasons for recovering refrigerant from a chiller. Perhaps you are switching refrigerants, i.e. R-22 to ammonia, or you are repairing, retrofitting, or replacing equipment. Routine maintenance may be another driver for refrigerant recovery as refrigerant needs to be cleaned or replaced. Regardless of the reason, it’s imperative to do it safely and efficiently while keeping an eye on the bottom line. 

Just as there are many reasons to perform a recovery job, there are many ways to do it.  Should you outsource or handle it yourself? Should you recycle the refrigerant or sell it to a reclaimer? While each recovery job is unique, the following article is designed to offer basic tips to help ensure a safe, efficient, and cost-effective recovery process that will complement your plant operations.

EPA Compliance

When it comes to refrigerant recovery, EPA compliance is paramount. Most chillers use refrigerants that have been found to deplete the stratospheric ozone layer and contribute to climate change, i.e. R-22, R-11, R-134a. It is illegal to vent these ozone depleting substances (ODS) because these materials are harmful to the environment and human health. Consequently, venting can result in costly fines from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Details can be found in Section 608 of the Clean Air Act (CAA), but here’s a brief overview:

  1. It is illegal to intentionally vent ODS refrigerants
  2. Refrigerant recovery equipment must be certified by the Air Conditioning, Heating, or Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) or Underwriters Laboratories
  3. Technicians must be EPA-608 certified
  4. Refrigerants must be disposed of properly the activity must be documented to verify EPA compliance

Do It Yourself or Outsource?

Due to EPA requirements alone, many companies choose to outsource their refrigerant recovery. Doing so transfers some of the responsibility to a third party. Others choose to take on the task because they are equipped to meet EPA requirements and they view this as an opportunity to save money. Regardless of which route you choose, here are some things to keep in mind.

Outsourcing

When retrofitting or replacing equipment, a mechanical contractor may offer recovery services. For other recovery jobs, you may hire an HVACR technician or an EPA-certified refrigerant reclaimer that specializes in chiller recovery.

At a minimum, make sure the vendor you select meets EPA requirements for refrigerant recovery.  Beyond this, check references. Just because a vendor meets EPA requirements doesn’t mean they are qualified. Some providers recover refrigerant from chillers occasionally while others do it on a regular basis. Ask specific questions regarding experience.

Finally, remember that many refrigerants are valuable.  If you do not plan to recycle your refrigerant for reuse in your equipment, you have the opportunity to sell it. Some vendors will offer to buy your recovered refrigerant or use its value to offset recovery fees. Either way, do not miss this opportunity to benefit from the market value of refrigerant.

Doing It Yourself

There are three types of refrigerant recovery methods – vapor recovery, liquid recovery, and the push-pull method.  The push-pull method is generally preferred for chiller recovery because it is the fastest method, transferring approximately ten pounds of refrigerant per minute. 

Refrigerant recovery operations can be dangerous so safety is crucial. Never recover refrigerant near an open flame and always use a scale to prevent overfilling the recovery tank. A tank overfill can cause rupture and lead to a fatal situation. Also, handling refrigerant can result in frostbite; technicians must wear safety glasses and gloves to prevent injuries. 

The technician performing the recovery must be EPA 608-certified and he or she must use a certified recovery machine. The EPA has approved the AHRI and Underwriters Laboratories to certify recovery equipment, which will be labeled accordingly. Qualified technicians are encouraged to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure safe and optimal performance.

The push-pull method is aptly named because vapor is pulled out of the recovery cylinder from the vapor port, and then pushed back into the chiller system to build pressure. By keeping the recovery cylinder at a lower pressure than the chiller system, a flow cycle is created.

See a diagram of this process. 

What to Do with Your Recovered Refrigerant: Recycle or Sell

Recycling Refrigerant

As the EPA phases out popular refrigerants, these gases become scarcer and more expensive which is why some companies turn to refrigerant recycling. During recycling, a refrigerant’s contaminants are reduced through oil separation and filtration processes. It is important to note that recycled refrigerant must be used in the same chiller or a chiller owned by the same company. It is illegal to sell recycled refrigerant, which is different from reclaimed refrigerant.

To recycle refrigerant and comply with EPA standards, you must have two things: an EPA-608 certified technician and certified recovery/recycling equipment. The EPA has approved the AHRI and Underwriters Laboratories to certify recovery/recycling equipment. Certified equipment will be labeled accordingly. Qualified technicians are encouraged to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure safe and optimal performance. 

Once the recycling process is complete, the removed oil and particles must be disposed of properly.  Many companies rely on an oil recycling vendor to ensure EPA compliance.

Selling Your Refrigerant

Years ago, industry professionals paid fees to dispose of refrigerants; this is no longer the case.  As refrigerant production and importation is increasingly capped by the EPA, refrigerant reclaimers are looking to secure product, reclaim it, and return it to the marketplace. Demand is predicted to outpace the supply of certain refrigerants, including R-22, R-11, R-12, R-134a, and R-113, so now is the time to take advantage of market conditions.

Most chillers contain more than 1,000 lbs. of refrigerant and most of it is pure as mixing refrigerants in chillers is not a common practice. These factors make chiller refrigerant very attractive to those who purchase recovered gases. To ensure you are getting the most money for your refrigerant, ask these three questions:

1. How much is your refrigerant worth? The value of your refrigerant is measured by two factors – weight and purity. It is not possible to know the purity of your refrigerant prior to recovery, but most refrigerant purchasers will have a pricing schedule that will give you an idea of how much money you can make. Also, be sure to ask for a purity and weight report, also called a receiving report, to ensure fair compensation.

2. Are you paying fees? Based on the assumed value of your refrigerant, you should not expect to pay recovery or disposal fees. Some vendors will recover at no charge; others may charge nominal fees. Be sure to inquire about fees ahead of time and subtract those costs from your refrigerant’s estimated value.

3. Where is your refrigerant going? Ultimately, your refrigerant goes to an EPA-certified refrigerant reclaimer, but not all purchasers are reclaimers. Selling direct may result in higher payouts.

Questions? Contact us for more information or to request a refrigerant quote.

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