Rapid Recovery for refrigerants is real

After hearing about the Rapid Recovery service for so long, I finally managed to arrange a site visit to see for myself if it’s really possible to recover such large quantities of refrigerant in such a short period of time. It seemed too good to be true. But it wasn’t, writes Ilana Koegelenberg 

On Tuesday 25 September, I headed to site to meet the guys from A-Gas and Cool Tech who were tasked with removing over 1.3t of R134a from an old chiller plant as to facilitate maintenance. The Cool Tech team had found 27 leaks on the system and had to completely pump it down before they could start repairs.

The chiller plant, that comprises two 350kW York chillers, was commissioned in 1995 and had been giving problems for a while now. Cool Tech was called in to sort out the maintenance of the massive, double-storey plant room in Johannesburg, but it was quite the task.

Micah Kupfer, operations manager of Cool Tech was onsite with some of his technicians to oversee the job. Their company does the maintenance on a variety of large commercial and industrial HVAC sites and refrigerant recovery is a huge headache for them sometimes, he explained. For a job such as this, it would easily take a few weeks to just get the refrigerant out – a huge waste of time and capacity as someone would have to be on site the whole time to oversee this slow recovery process. Needless to say, Kupfer was excited too to see if this would work. Not to mention the hassle of purchasing recovery cylinders and trying to get rid of the refrigerant once it was all recovered.

The sad truth is that recovering refrigerant is simply just too much of a hassle for many contractors who end up (illegally) venting the refrigerant instead. Definitely not ideal for the environment and very risky if they get caught with huge fines and even possible jail time on the cards. What is the alternative though?

“Rapid Recovery has been gaining some great exposure in the local HVAC&R industry,” explains Michael Labacher of A-Gas who was also onsite to make sure things run smoothly. “We have seen a steady increase in the number of clients requesting this service over the last few months. With more focus being placed on the legal and environmental implications of releasing gases into the atmosphere, this solution is also very cost-effective as it saves a huge amount of a qualified technician’s time that could be used more effectively carrying out other tasks, plus get gets the contractors client up and running much faster.”

As such, Cool Tech called in A-Gas to try out their new Rapid Recovery service. A-Gas arrived on site with two 1-tonne drums, carefully placing one on a scale before starting the job. It’s important to measure the refrigerant being recovered, explained Labacher. Many people fill the cylinder to the top but this could be risky as you don’t know how clean recovered gas is. That’s why they only put in 850kg of refrigerant before switching over to another drum.

With one technician on site to monitor and manage the process, A-Gas quickly got to work and managed to recover a total of 1 313kg of R134a that same afternoon still. They could recover liquid refrigerant at a speedy rate of 100kg/10 minutes.

They then took the refrigerant away to assess it, giving Cool Tech a reclamation certificate of safe responsible handling for it. If the refrigerant can be cleaned and reused, they will do that – if not, it will be suitably and safely be disposed of. A-Gas issues a refrigerant buy-back credit after the recovery is done, making this process even more cost effective.

“I was so impressed at how professional and efficient the whole process was,” said Kupfer afterwards. “I think that this is the way to going forward – it’s a lot faster than how we used to recover. I recommend that all HVAC&R companies to use this system.”

With the refrigerant taken care of, Cool Tech could immediately get to work on fixing the leaks and other system issues before filling the system with refrigerant again.

“We see this service becoming a necessity in the market and to date we have had fantastic feedback, especially in clients needing to produce a reclamation certificate for the green footprint,” explains Labacher.

A-Gas is looking at rolling out more teams across the country in the new year to assist contractors with safely (and quickly) recovering refrigerant on site.


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