News
31 August 2017

The Difference Between Recycling and Reclamation

A-Gas Refrigerant Product Manager Roger Smith explains why you shouldn’t confuse the two when returning gases for use in the industry

One of the most common questions we receive at A-Gas is: “What’s the difference between recycling and reclaiming refrigerants? They all end up in a recovery cylinder – don’t they?”

Well, yes, initially they do, but there are significant differences between the two processes and to help you understand them I will explain what they are.

Recycling

Recycling old refrigerant involves processing to reduce contaminants and then re-using the gas in the same system. But there are regulations restricting this and recycling is permitted only when recharging to the same owner's equipment.

Recycling involves reducing the levels of contaminants prior to re-use and this is good news for the customer. Contaminants can result in early system failure and include oil, moisture, acid, particulates, and non-condensable gases. Methods to reduce the levels of them include using desiccant driers and basic oil separation.

With most recovery machines it is not possible to remove all the contaminants I referred to previously which is why the gas can only be processed for use in the same equipment.

Reclamation

Reclamation requires the reprocessing of used refrigerant to meet the product specifications for newly manufactured refrigerant. Prior to the start of the process we have to identify the quality of the refrigerant to find out if it is mixed or has suffered fractionation – a change in the composition of the blend. We also have to find out if any contaminants are within the refrigerant which can result in equipment damage. At A-Gas this is achieved by carrying out a detailed chemical analysis of the used refrigerant in our specialist laboratory.

The process of reclamation includes filtering, removal of non-condensables, separation, distillation, dilution or reformulation of the recovered refrigerant. Reclamation also requires a final chemical analysis to verify that the re-processed refrigerant meets or exceeds product specifications for newly manufactured refrigerant.

Reclamation is recommended when used refrigerants are returned to the market ready to be charged for use in equipment – other than the original equipment – or equipment owned by a different company. The Environmental Agency requires that reclaimed refrigerant must reach a required standard prior to resale.

This means that reclamation facilities and processes must be designed and maintained to ensure that they minimise harmful emissions to the environment. Banned or non-reclaimable refrigerants – CFCs like R12, R11, HCFCs like R22 and interim refrigerants – must be disposed of in an environmentally-acceptable manner and in accordance with the regulations.

So you can see from my explanation that there is a substantial difference between the definitions of recycled and reclaimed refrigerant

Why reclamation matters

With the reduction in the availability of virgin GWP refrigerants in the coming years it is of paramount importance that we reclaim larger quantities of high GWP gases as more systems are converted to use lower GWP products. Reclamation will ensure that there is enough high GWP refrigerant available to use in the servicing of existing equipment.

New separator

To help offset this shortfall, and to deal with the increase in demand for reclaimed product, A-Gas has invested heavily in the development and installation of a new refrigerants’ separator at its site in Portbury. This new £1 million facility will be in use in September.

The new separator is a key investment by A-Gas and will operate in tandem with the existing separator on our Portbury site but importantly will more than double our reclamation capacity. This investment also highlights the commitment of A-Gas to providing the industry with the capacity and infrastructure to support the F-Gas phasedown.

Mixed refrigerants

The new equipment will enable the reclamation of mixed refrigerants received from customers across Europe. This type of waste has changed over the years as refrigerant mixtures get more complicated and we start to see much higher quantities of mixed gases.

Several different refrigerants combined together in one mix sets us new challenges and without separation technology it is almost impossible to return the gas to the same kind of quality as virgin material. A-Gas reclaims thousands of tonnes of refrigerant a year across the world. Following the acquisition of Rapid Recovery in the USA we are now one of the world’s leading reclaimers of refrigerants.

The F-Gas challenge

The challenge facing installers and end users is to make the switch from high GWP refrigerants to low GWP alternatives as easy as possible. The reductions driven by the F-Gas Regulations mean that we are now only months away from the 37 per cent reduction in the supply of virgin HFCs on a CO2 equivalent basis.

Next year it’s predicted that the shortfall in the availability of high GWP virgin refrigerants will be exacerbated with manufactures having stopped or reduced their production of high GWP products. This will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the industry.