Refrigerant recycling within reach of smallest contractors

One of the reclaim machines being commissioned at Refrimate, from left: Robert Blom (RBTS); Ronald Viskil (Unicorn B.V); and Faizel Patel (Refrimate).

The phase out of environmentally harmful synthetic refrigerants in South Africa is not only about government curbing of imports, it also lies with the recovery and recycling of refrigerants at every level.

This applies not only to large installations, but the smallest systems with less than 100kg of charge. Every kilogram recycled is another step towards reducing global warming and a further extension to the useful life of many HVAC&R plants. Retrofitting any plant with alternative refrigerants is costly and can be avoided until the end of the useful life of the plant.

Although recovery and recycling of refrigerants from large installations is being done via the services of A-Gas and Afrox, little is being recovered from small to medium installations. The reluctance for recovery and recycling from small plants can be attributed to the lack of equipment, cost, time for recovery, know-how and the location of the plant.

One of the new refrigerant reclamation machines being set up with a scale on right.


To encourage recycling and recovery at all levels, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) has funded and shipped to South Africa four reclaim systems, comprising mobile reclaim units with recovery cylinders, storage cylinders, scales, hand-held recovery units, vacuum pumps, gas analysers, temperature gauges and even labelling devices for cylinder identification.

In total, there are 600 recovery cylinders, ranging from 12.5 to 61 litres in capacity. There are 20 400-litre cylinders, a further 80 storage cylinders and 300 single-valve storage cylinders. All the equipment filled three 40ft marine shipping containers.

The project started late 2016. In January 2018, UNIDO funded a group study tour from South Africa to Mexico and Argentina to visit reclaiming centres that used similar equipment and to gain from the experiences of reclaiming refrigerant in the two South American countries.

After canvassing industry role players by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to operate the systems and provide the required services to refrigerant consumers, Acon in Durban, Refrimate in Randfontein, Afrox in Port Elizabeth, and the Seshego Capricorn College in Polokwane were selected as the locations and operators of the reclaim systems.

Three of the systems are already on the final sites and preliminary training in operating the systems has been given by UNIDO appointed trainers.

As to how each system will be operated, lies with the appointed operator and the agreement concluded with the DEA.

The various sizes of cylinders at the Refrimate site.


A system envisaged is that the operator will go to where the refrigerant is to be recovered, do the recovery and reclaiming and return it to the contractor/owner who will recharge into the system. The charges levied for the service will need to at least cover the costs of the operator. Alternatively, the contractor could hire a recovery unit and recovery cylinders from one of the four operators and return the recovered refrigerant for reclaiming and re-use or buy-back by the operator for sale to another party.

Ultimately, the aim is to provide recycling and reclaiming of refrigerant close to where it is being used in plants and systems.

Further training in the operation of the systems is to be provided by UNIDO and each site checked for the proper storage and installation of the equipment.

There are many issues to consider around reclaiming and recycling.

The four systems will be operated as pilot projects during 2019 and 2020 and from the experiences gained formulate a structure best suited for South Africa and possibly also for its neighbouring countries.

From recent reports, the Refrimate system is fully operational and supplementing the services rendered to their established client base. The other systems are in the process of being established.