Airgas’ introduction of new refrigerant reclamation technology has been “extremely successful” in both preventing the release of harmful gases into the ozone and “placed the company ahead of its competitors”.

That’s according to Jay Kestenbaum, Senior Vice President of Sales and Purchasing at Airgas. The company introduced its new Airgas Refrigatron™ system, for large-scale reclamation of used refrigerant gases, at the end of July – and it has been a success. Refrigatron technology assures that Airgas properly identifies the contents of returned refrigerant gas cylinders, enabling the company to pay HVAC contractors the highest price for used gases, while delivering efficiencies that make the reclamation process less labor intensive, safer and more cost-effective.

Gasworld asked Jay Kestenbaum about the amounts of HFC’s that could be saved from entering our atmosphere?

He said, “Current HCFC’s are the most targeted refrigerant due to the enormous use worldwide and the damage that they supposedly cause to the ozone layer, in addition to the Global Warming impact.”

“HFC’s are now also being targeted due to their Global Warming impact. Reclamation in addition to proper service practices are essential in preventing release of these items into the atmosphere and assuring ample supplies for servicing systems already installed. We do not maintain the statistics that would allow us to guess on the specific savings by each of these actions,” added Jay Kestenbaum.

Currently HCFC refrigerants (Hydrogen, Chlorine, Fluorine and Carbon) are being banned from usage. The ban came into force from 2010 and HCFCs should be phased out by 2015.

But HFCs could soon suffer the same fate.

A new study from environmental scientists shows that the new “smart” gases, created by scientists to help save the Earth’s ozone layer, are actually boosting global warming by 20%. The gases, although present in just tiny amounts, can be thousands of times more harmful to the atmosphere than CO2 – with many also having lifetimes of thousands of years.

When scientists discovered CFCs were responsible for gaping holes in the ozone layer in the 1980s, HFCs were created. But now scientists believe the emissions of HFCs are contributing to global warming, due to the gas’ ability to retain heat from the Earth’s surface and stopping it from radiating away into space.

Airgas has installed its first Refrigatron system in its Airgas Refrigerants, Smyrna, Georgia, plant, where it has already analysed and recovered more than a million pounds of used refrigerants through a testing and modification phase over the past 10 months. Airgas Refrigerants, is a full-service refrigerant gases supply and reclamation company with approximately 115 employees nationwide.

Airgas Refrigatron is a multiphase system that first allows for the fast analysis and recovery of used refrigerant gases to then be reclaimed to 99.8% purity and resold. The system streamlines the process of moving, analysing, evacuating and storing refrigerants from cylinders containing used refrigerants. Refrigatron automates Airgas Refrigerants’ standard operating procedures. Using two zero-gravity lifts to move cylinders and two in-line gas chromatograph mass spectrometers, the system renders an ARI-700 specification result and records it for labeling and for future use. Airgas estimates that it achieves much greater accuracy and saves 45 minutes for each cylinder tested using its new mass spectrometer method.

With Airgas Refrigatron refrigerant gases are automatically and properly evacuated to nine 10,000-pound storage tanks for storage prior to purification. Airgas estimates that an average shift allows two technicians to test and empty approximately 130 cylinders and evacuate approximately 6,500 to 7,000 pounds of refrigerant.

Airgas Refrigatron is the result of more than two years of planning, engineering and construction. The system was designed and built by the Airgas Research and Development group located in Cheshire, Connecticut, and shipped to Smyrna for installation and testing in early 2011. Airgas is pursuing multiple patents on the innovative processes and technologies that comprise Refrigatron. The system is engineered for durability, with easy access to high-wear parts and fast-swappable components to prevent down time. The system currently boasts greater than 99% uptime since its installation.

“Airgas Refrigatron was born from the idea that there must be economies of scale to make reclamation cost-effective sooner rather than later,” said Ted Schulte, President of Airgas Refrigerants, adding, “we’ve learned from other refrigerant phase-outs, saw the market for reclaimed gases looming, and sought to find a way to make handling thousands of small tanks cost-efficient and safe.”

Airgas is committed to honoring environmental regulations and contributing to the safe repurposing of reclaimed gases. The phasing out of R-22, by far the most widely-used refrigerant in the United States, spurred Airgas Refrigerants to more actively pursue the market and to reengineer and automate the refrigerant gas testing and recovery processes to make them more economically efficient.

And, according to Jay Kestenbaum, the new Refrigatron program has been a major success. He said, “As the largest supplier of packaged gases in the United States, Airgas decided to take the lead in putting together a program with the most technologically advanced equipment to provide the industry with the highest quality analytical equipment and the capabilities of reclaiming the quantities necessary based on the EPA’s estimates of expected needs.”

“The program has been extremely successful as it has drastically reduced the time necessary to properly process used refrigerant returns and has clearly positioned Airgas far ahead of anyone else in the industry without such high tech equipment.”