Airgas Refrigatron System makes refrigerant reclamation faster, safer and more cost-effective.

Airgas Refrigerants Inc.’s Refrigatron enables two operators to analyze and evacuate about 6,500 pounds of refrigerant gases per shift for reclamation. Photo credit: Airgas Inc.

TheAirgas Refrigatron systemis designed for large-scale reclamation of used refrigerant gases. Its Refrigatron technology assures that Airgas properly identifies the contents of returned refrigerant gas cylinders, which enables the company to pay HVAC contractors the highest price for used gases. It also makes the reclamation process less labor intensive, safer and more cost-effective.

Airgas Refrigerants a full-service refrigerant gases supply and reclamation company with approximately 115 employees nationwide. The company’s first Refrigatron system is installed at its 95,000-sq.-ft. plant based in Smyrna, Ga., which houses an estimated 40,000 refrigerant cylinders. Over the past 10 months, this system has already analyzed and recovered more than a million pounds of used refrigerants. Reclamation is only part of the function of the Smyrna plant. The company also packages its ASPEN brand refrigerant gases here.

Airgas Refrigerants Director of Operations Pat Kitchin (left) confers with chemist and Refrigatron operator Michael Kuchcinski, (foreground) and Airgas Refrigerants President Ted Schulte. Holding a label with an ARI-700 result, Schulte can see the exact composition of the gas in the cylinder within minutes.

This multi-phase system allows for quick analysis and recovery of used refrigerant gases to then be reclaimed to 99.8% purity and resold. The system streamlines the process of moving, analyzing, evacuating and storing refrigerants from cylinders containing used refrigerants. Refrigatron automates Airgas Refrigerants’ standard operating procedures. Using two zero-gravity lifts to move 30-, 50- and 125-lb. 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. The company expects the machine to help it reclaim about three million pounds of refrigerants in the coming year.

An operator puts the finishing touches on a 30-lb. cylinder of ASPEN brand R-22 Cylinder. The Smyrna, Ga., plant reclaims used refrigerant gases and packages the ARI-700 product in its own ASPEN brand cylinders.

The Airgas Refrigatron system 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, Conn., and shipped to Smyrna for installation and testing in early 2011. Chemist and Refrigatron operatorMichael Kuchcinski(pictured top left) was responsible for the configuration of the mass spectrometers as well as the analytical methods and routines, which allow Refrigatron to provide analysis of 38 compounds with unparalleled speed and accuracy. Kuchcinski also played a key role in the installation and operational qualification of the Refrigatron system. During a typical shift, Kuchcinski and a fellow operator will test and evacuate about 130 cylinders comprising 6,500-7,000 lbs. of refrigerants for reclamation.

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 Refrigerants President Ted Schulte, Senior VP Sales and Purchasing Jay Kestenbaum and Director of Technical Services and Project Administration Randy Perry confer in front of a row 10,000-lb. refrigerant bulking tanks.

“Airgas Refrigatron was born from the idea that there must be economies of scale to make reclamation cost-effective sooner rather than later,” saidTed Schulte, president of Airgas Refrigerants. “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.

Source: Airgas Refrigerants Inc.