Recovery, Recycling, and Reclaiming Refrigerant

Laws governing the release of chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants (CFCs) into the atmosphere have resulted in the development of procedures to recover, recycle, and reuse these refrigerants. Many companies have developed equipment necessary to prevent the release of CFCs into the atmosphere. Refrigerant recovery management equipment can be divided into three categories—recovery, recycle, and reclaiming equipment.


Removing refrigerant from a system in any condition and storing it in an external container is called "recovery." Removal of refrigerant from the system is necessary, in some instances, when repair of a system is needed. To accomplish this, you can use special recovery equipment, which is now a requirement when removing refrigerant from a system. This equipment ensures complete removal of the refrigerant in the system.

Recovery is similar to evacuating a system with the vacuum pump and is accomplished by either the vapor recovery or liquid recovery method. In the vapor recovery method (fig. 6-57), a hose is connected to the low-side access point (compressor suction valve) through a filter-drier to the transfer unit, compressor suction valve. A hose is then connected from the transfer unit, compressor discharge valve to an external storage cylinder. When the transfer unit is turned on, it withdraws vapor refrigerant from the system into the transfer unit compressor, which, in turn, condenses the refrigerant vapor to a liquid and discharges it into the external storage cylinder.

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In the liquid recovery method (fig. 6-58), a hose is connected to the low-side access point to the transfer unit compressor discharge valve. A hose is then connected from the transfer unit compressor suction valve through a filter-drier to a two-valve external storage cylinder. A third hose is connected from the high-side access point (liquid valve at the receiver) to the two-valve external storage cylinder. When the transfer unit is turned on, the transfer unit compressor pumps refrigerant vapor from the external storage cylinder into the refrigeration system, which pressurizes it. The difference in pressure between the system and the external storage cylinder forces the liquid refrigerant from the system into the external cylinder. Once the liquid refrigerant is removed from the system, the remaining vapor refrigerant is removed using the vapor recovery method as previously described.

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Most recovery units automatically shut off when the refrigerant has been completely recovered, but check the manufacturer's operational manual for specific instructions. You should make sure that the external storage cylinder is not overfilled. Eighty percent capacity is normal. If the recovery unit is equipped with a sight-glass indicator, any changes that may occur should be noted.


The process of cleaning refrigerant for reuse by oil separation and single or multiple passes through filter-driers which reduce moisture, acidity, and matter is called "recycling." In the past, refrigerant was typically vented into the atmosphere. Modern technology has developed equipment to enable reuse of old, damaged, or previously used refrigerant. Refrigerant removed from a system cannot be simply reused—it must be clean. Recycling in the field as performed by most recycling machines reduces the contaminants through oil separation and filtration. Normally recycling is accomplished during the recovery of the vapor or liquid refrigerant by use of equipment that does both recovery and recycling of refrigerant.

Recycling machines use either the single-pass or  multiple-pass method of recycling. The single-pass  method (fig. 6-59) processes refrigerant through as filter-drier and/or uses distillation. It makes only one  pass through the recycling process to a storage  cylinder. The multiple-pass method (fig. 6-60)  recirculates refrigerant through the filter-drier many  times, and after a period of time or number of cycles,  the refrigerant is transferred to a storage cylinder.

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The reprocessing of a refrigerant to original production specifications as verified by chemical analysis is called "reclaiming." Equipment used for this process must meet SAE standards and remove 100 percent of the moisture and oil particles.

Most reclaiming equipment uses the same process cycle for reclaiming refrigerant. The refrigerant enters the unit as a vapor or liquid and is boiled violently at a high temperature at extreme high pressure (distillation). The refrigerant then enters a large, unique separator chamber where the velocity is radically reduced, which allows the high-temperature vapor to rise. During this phase all the contaminants, such as copper chips, carbon, oil, and acid, drop to the bottom of the separator to be removed during the "oil out" operation. The distilled vapor then leaves the separator and enters an air-cooled condenser where it is converted to a liquid. Then the liquid refrigerant passes through a filter-drier into a storage chamber where the refrigerant is cooled to a temperature of 38F to 40F by an evaporator assembly.

Figure 6-58.—The liquid recovery method. Figure 6-57.—The vapor recovery method.


Figure 6-59.—Single-pass method of recycling.

Figure 6-60.—Multiple-pass method of recycling.