A recent position paper written by the Alliance to Save Energy, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Natural Resources Defense Council reported that more than half of the nation's estimated 80,000 CFC chillers have yet to be replaced or retrofitted to accommodate nonCFC refrigerants. The groups' writers urged industry and governments to accelerate efforts to replace or modify existing systems and to encourage energy efficiency and the use of alternative refrigerants.

The latest conversion survey report released by the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) confirms that of 61% of the 48,484 units still in operation in 1999, 3,085 units were replaced and another 491 units were converted. From January 2000 to January 2001, ARI estimates that 3,271 centrifugal, screw, reciprocating and absorption chillers will be replaced and 517 converted. By the beginning of 2002, ARI estimates that another 3,359 of these chillers will be replaced and 507 converted. At the current rate of nearly 4,000 replacements per year, the United States will remain dependent upon CFCs until 2010. Survey results for year 2000 conversions will be released the beginning of April.

Table 1. Required Levels of Evacuation

EPA Refrigerant Regulations Overview

Title VI, Stratospheric Ozone Protection, of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 established, among other things, a production phase-out schedule and yearly reduction percentages for ozone-depleting chemicals. These requirements are intended to reduce the emissions of ozone-depleting substances until their eventual complete phase-out. EPA is responsible for federal regulations concerning the protection of stratospheric ozone and has issued numerous regulations and requirements to ensure compliance.

Since January 1, 1996, CFCs have no longer been produced in the United States; CFC availability is uncertain. New refrigerant alternatives approved by EPA under the Clear Air Act allow organizations the flexibility to phase out older systems and save energy.

New chillers can be up to 40% more efficient than CFC units installed 20 years ago, resulting in operating savings that can pay back the cost of replacement in a few years. Also, the U.S. Congress is being asked to consider accelerated depreciation for CFC chillers to provide owners with more incentive to replace their CFC units.

This two-part series will outline the process and EPA regulations that contractors and facility owners need to be aware of when preparing to dispose of their old CFC chiller equipment.

Disposal Process

Any appliance that contains refrigerant and is being permanently retired must have its refrigerant recovered to at least the level required be the EPA (unless the equipment is leaking) and any removable parts dismantled. Table 1 shows the specific evacuation limits for various types of equipment. The recovery process should be documented and retained for future reference. Only when these steps are accomplished can the equipment and materials be released to a disposal facility.

When recovering the refrigerant:

  • Be aware of your recovery system's capabilities. Determine where the refrigerant is in the system, and the refrigerant's phase and condition.

  • It is preferable to recover liquid refrigerant. If possible, draw any water from the system. Recovering refrigerant in the vapor phase on a water-cooled system could cause water to freeze in the tubes and create a leak.

  • If possible, isolate the refrigerant in the receiver, receiver and condenser, or condenser.

  • Check for leaks.

  • Begin the recovery. If the system is leaking, recover to only atmospheric pressure. If the system is sound, recover to EPA-listed levels. For systems that are being completely retired or disposed of, recovery must be to the listed levels, and at least 90% of the refrigerant must be removed.

  • Refrigerant must be stored in approved, labeled containers. If the refrigerant is contaminated, it must be taken off-site to a reclamation facility for reprocessing. Otherwise, recycle the refrigerant and bank it for future use. In both cases, keep records of the quantities processed.

  • After the refrigerant has been recovered, properly remove the oil, filters, capacitors and any mercury switches.

  • Prior to surrendering the retired equipment for salvage, obtain or provide a written agreement that clearly documents that the refrigerant has been recovered and that all other appropriate materials have been properly removed. This agreement should be written for you and the final disposal facility.

  • The following information should be documented and maintained for a minimum of three years: date of recovery, job name and address, appliance serial number(s), number of appliances disposed of, refrigerant type and amount recovered, recycling unit used, quantity of oil recovered, disposal location and evacuation level.

  • In addition to daily documentation, other records that should be kept include: training certificates, recovery machine information, type and quantity of refrigerant recovered from equipment being retired, and repair records for recovery equipment.

  • An Environmental Disposal Tag should be attached to the equipment being disposed.
When disposing of appliances, technicians must evacuate the refrigerant in the entire unit to a certified recovery or recycling machine. Applicable evacuation levels specified in table 1 must be met. Appliances excluded from these provisions face special requirements.

In my next column, I'll look at disposing of refrigerant oils.