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The Refrigerant Reclaim Challenge

The HVACR industry will soon encounter one of its greatest challenges since the passing of the Clean Air Act. On January 1st, 2010, a new era will begin as the industry finds itself scrambling to comply with sweeping new regulations, policies and procedures that are the result of the HCFC phase out.

One of the most critical issues facing refrigerant users is the 27.5 million pound shortfall the EPA is projecting in the supply of R-22. Along with equipment replacement, reducing system leaks, and increased use of non-ODP alternative refrigerants, reclamation will need to play a vital role in closing the supply/demand gap.

Today, there are numerous reclamation sites and reclaim services available to refrigerant users. However, the total amount of refrigerant being returned for reclaim is dismal.

After years of discussion and debate, the largest consensus within the industry is that the only practical way to effectively energize the reclaim industry is through EPA enforcement and a little good old fashioned capitalism!

Assuming the government would provide adequate funding for enforcement activities, conducting random compliance audits of refrigerant users and equipment owners, similar to the audits the EPA conducted during the early 1990s to insure recovery system compliance, would surely stimulate the reclaim market. The increase in R-22 recovery would ignite competition among reclaim service providers. As they battle for market share, their programs would improve, and this in turn would attract even more refrigerant users “back” into the process.

Anticipating this potential boon, reclaim service providers are scrambling to improve their programs and expand their services. Refrigerant users are finding a growing list of reclaim service providers to choose from.

There are three primary reclaim business models. Here is a breakdown of the primary program models available.

Commercial / Industrial Project Reclamation

At times, major recovery/reclaim projects require the use of specialized equipment and techniques. There are only a small number of reclaim providers capable of providing large volume recovery of high and low pressure systems. These services can be expensive. However when the contractor or equipment owner considers all costs and liabilities of large project recovery, it often makes better sense to rely upon companies specializing in commercial/industrial recovery and reclamation.

Pump-Down Services

This is a very common service model with several variations. A few reclaim companies provide on-site “mobile” cylinder pump/down services. Another spin is where the reclaim company provides the end user/equipment owner with a large volume recovery cylinder. This puts the burden of cylinder maintenance and risk of cross contamination on the shoulders of the contractor.

Cylinder Exchange Programs

This third option is similar to traditional industrial gas programs used in the HVACR industry to exchange oxygen, acetylene, and nitrogen. These programs are designed for speed and efficiency. Traditionally they're offered through the wholesale distribution channel, yet some companies do offer it direct.

When exchanging cylinders through a wholesale distributor, the contractor/equipment owner will pay a basic processing fee. This fee covers the cost of processing refrigerant through an EPA certified reclaim company, can cover the costs of maintaining the cylinder, as well as the cost for providing participants with detailed processing records. The refrigerant user receives a clean, operable, and Department of Transportation certified cylinder with every exchange.

With so much riding on reclaim to close the R-22 supply/demand gap in the future, refrigerant users need to establish a fine tuned refrigerant recovery strategy and evaluate all of the competing reclaim programs available.

Marc Richburg is the National Sales Manager for ICOR International, Inc./Refri-Claim. He spent seven years in the field as a regional director before being promoted to National Sales Manger in January 2008. He can be reached at [email protected]. Learn more about ICOR's programs at


65TH ANNIVERSARY. The ‘70s were driven by energy shortages after the 1973 oil crisis. The resulting Department Of Energy standards dictated the HVACR industry's course for the next 20 years. Read about our fourth decade in the resources section.

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