Recovering refrigerant during maintenance or plant decommissioning
An important obligation on end users is to ensure that refrigerant is not knowingly vented to the atmosphere.
If refrigerant needs to be removed from a system (e.g. to gain access to part of a system for maintenance or during system decommissioning at the end of life) it must be properly recovered by certified personnel. For most refrigerants this requires a special recovery machine that sucks the refrigerant out of the plant and condenses it into a storage cylinder. After recovery, refrigerant must not be vented to atmosphere.
What happens to the recovered refrigerant?
After recovery the refrigerant can be reused or sent for reclamation or destruction:
In some situations refrigerant can be reused directly without any further processing. For example, some refrigerant might be removed from a plant during servicing and then directly refilled back into the same plant.
In other situations it may be preferable to carry out some simple cleaning operations on the recovered refrigerant, for example to remove traces of oil and moisture. This can be carried out with portable equipment at the end user site.
If it is vital to thoroughly clean the old refrigerant of all contaminants before it is reused then it is necessary to carry out a reclamation process, which is usually done at a major facility owned by one of the refrigerant supply companies. They are able to fully reprocess the old refrigerant and produce a recycled fluid that is indistinguishable from virgin product.
Any waste refrigerant that cannot be reused or we claimed must be destroyed. This is done by incineration in specialised facilities. Sometimes it is more cost-effective to declare used refrigerant as waste and to send it for destruction than it is to have it reprocessed. If different types of refrigerant are mixed together in the same cylinder it is usually impossible to reprocess them.
The Regulation specifies that personnel carrying out refrigerant recovery must be suitably qualified. At this stage the qualifications required to carry out this task are still unclear. The Commission is trying to agree a framework that will help specify minimum requirements. These will need to be transposed into national legislation in each Member State of the EU. Further information about qualifications will be posted on the Figaroo website as soon as possible.
The requirement for refrigerant recovery from all stationary refrigeration and air-conditioning systems containing F-Gas refrigerants begins in July 2007.