You probably thought by now everything already has been said about the refrigerant phase-outs. But no, there seems to be no end to the news and updates.

I’m sure you’ve already felt the latest huge price bump on R-22. And according to Jay Kestenbaum, senior vice president at Airgas Refrigerants, this larger-than-might-be-expected hike is the result of the EPA allowing excess production of the gas during the past year and then drastically throttling down the allowed limits for 2015 as the total cutoff date draws nearer.

Are we seeing more HCFC recovery? Kestenbaum says in general most in the industry predict recovery and reclamation amounts will be about the same as last year. However, he suspects many A/C techs may be recovering what they can and then simply reusing it (possibly charging customers a premium rate) without returning it for cleaning, as required by law. But when it comes to the law, Kestenbaum points out that except for a few show cases, there is no effective enforcement to protect consumers or the environment since the EPA has made minimal efforts to police the enforcement of its own regulations.

Also, when I asked about the quality of the refrigerants being returned Kestenbaum says his company is seeing more and more contaminants in the form of mixed refrigerants as service techs seem to be using whatever they have on hand to add charge to systems. Fortunately, as he pointed out, this is less a problem for Airgas than for some other refrigerant-reprocessing operations since their refining methods can separate the gases and the contaminants, which means less chance of chargeback costs to their customers.

“So,” I asked, “what does your company plan to do once it has recycled all the available CFCs and HCFC?” Kestenbaum then explained what seems to be an inevitable truth. “Our industry is heavily government-regulated and we can expect to see more refrigerants being phased out, which will require recovery and reclaim,” he replied. “So I think our business is safe for many years to come.”

What about “drop-in replacements” for R-22? The claims continue to abound, but I’ve found you have to read the fine print. Notice what one company at the 2015 AHR Expo said about its refrigerant: “RS-44 is a nonflammable blend of HFC 125, HFC 134a, n-butane, isobutane and isopentane which has a zero ODP and is also compatible with both traditional and synthetic lubricants so that a retrofit (as an R-22 replacement) is not required.”

However, what isn’t mentioned is the “drop-in” refrigerant loses 15% of system capacity and that oil return may be a problem. Notice what this company’s spec sheet recommends as the best application: “RS-44 is suitable for use as a replacement for R-22 in new existing commercial and industrial air-conditioning and refrigeration systems, and appliances.”

Not for residential A/C systems.

What about the new lower GWP (global-warming potential) refrigerants? In Chicago, DuPont showed its new “Opteon” line, which it claims can be retrofitted to replace R-404A and R-134a in commercial and transport refrigeration systems. However, Trane had a new air-cooled chiller at the Expo that comes with a choice of Opteon XP10 or E-134a. As you can see, these “semi-flammable” refrigerants already have made the jump to domestic commercial A/C systems and at a much higher cost (wouldn’t you know it?)!

Next month:New HVAC systems and tools at AHR Expo.