Refrigerant Reclaim AustraliaRRA
Skip to content

Potential Recovery

RRA takes back all recovered refrigerant presented to it by the market. It is necessary for RRA to carefully forecast returns, budget costs, and calculate the required funding to remain viable in the long term. RRA takes advice from and consults with the industry to seek to determine the amount of refrigerant expected to be recovered, and the anticipated growth over time.

RRA takes back all recovered refrigerant presented to it by the market. It is necessary for RRA to carefully forecast returns, budget costs, and calculate the required funding to remain viable in the long term. RRA takes advice from and consults within the industry to seek to determine the amount of refrigerant expected to be recovered, and the anticipated growth over time.

Potential Recovery FY20

RRA total collections in 2019/20 totalled 470 tonnes, and was comprised of 409 tonnes collected and destroyed, and a further 61 tonnes that were reclaimed to new specification. This equates to recovery effectiveness between 47% and 67%, depending on the volume available for recovery. This is calculated on the volumetric range of refrigerant available for recovery being between 1,700 and 2,550 tonnes. It is important to note that all potentially recoverable refrigerant is available for retention and reuse by contractors and equipment owners. The table below displays the numbers.

RRA takes back all recovered refrigerant presented to it by the market. To ensure the long-term viability of the recovery program it is necessary for RRA to carefully forecast returns, budget costs, and calculate the required funding. RRA takes advice from and consults within the industry to seek to determine the amount of refrigerant expected to be recovered, and the anticipated growth over time.

However, RRA is at the same risk of market and economic fluctuations, faces the same impacts of national regulatory changes, and operates in the same global industry as commercial organisations. Over the years RRA experienced the marked decline in economic activity due to the global financial crisis, the many and often unintended consequences of carbon pricing, the consequent increase in recovery once the carbon tax was repealed, the growing impacts of phasing down high GWP refrigerants, and the unprecedented upheaval caused by Covid-19.

To understand how much refrigerant is available for recovery it is necessary to first understand the size of the market and the applications to which new refrigerant will be applied. In 2019/20 sales of bulk refrigerant were in the order of 3068 tonnes. Understanding the applications provides a guide as to how much is available for recovery. Industry advice is that 305 tonnes is used for original equipment manufacturing, 588 tonnes for new installations, 677 tonnes for automotive air conditioning service, 350 tonnes for domestic air conditioning service, and 1148 tonnes for commercial, industrial AC and refrigeration. Please note the figures are approximations. The Australian refrigerant market has undergone substantial change over the past decade: original equipment manufacturing has decreased; imports of equipment already charged with refrigerant have increased; new and installed systems leak rates have significantly declined; and recycling and reuse has grown strongly.

It is only during service operations and decommissioning that refrigerant is available for recovery. Yet, much of the refrigerant used in service work is for replacing that which has leaked during operation. In the automotive sector it is estimated that while 677 tonnes are used in the service sector only between 200 and 300 tonnes of refrigerants are available for recovery. The domestic air conditioning sector has grown strongly this century with installed refrigerant now the largest component of the bank. As this type of equipment has very low leakage rates the quantity of refrigerant used for service is relatively small at 350 tonnes, and the volume available for recovery is estimated to be between 100 and 200 tonnes. Of the 1148 tonnes used in the commercial/industrial and refrigeration service sector approximately 300 to 500 tonnes are available for recovery.

The decommissioning and disposal of equipment, such as motor vehicles and air conditioning systems, provides the opportunity for recovering refrigerant. It is difficult to estimate the amount of refrigerant available from decommissioned equipment, and it is the sector where the greatest potential for increased recovery exists. Australia does not have product stewardship schemes for end-of-life motor vehicles or consumer durables such as refrigerators and air conditioners.

Approximately 700,000 motor vehicles are disposed of annually. As these are generally older vehicles about 80% will have air conditioning systems. Research indicates that EOL vehicles contain as much as 250 tonnes that should be available for recovery.

More than 10 million air conditioning systems are installed in Australia with an average charge of 1.6 kilograms. Around half these systems were installed in the last five years and will not be due for retirement for many years due to an average life of fifteen years. Using an annual leakage rate of 3% the amount available for recovery on decommissioning each year may be as much as 900 tonnes.

The amount of refrigerant available for recovery from other refrigeration and air conditioning plant is not known to any certainty but is likely to be in the order of 300 to 500 tonnes per annum based on a fifteen-year equipment life and two thirds of the charge being present when decommissioned.

Most refrigerant recovered in Australia is reused, most usually in the system from which it was extracted. The amount of refrigerant retained and reused by contractors and technicians is unknown. It is known that the volume retained for reuse increases in-line with refrigerant price and scarcity. In recent years, the supply of HCFC R22 has diminished as it is phased out. Eight years ago, RRA received more than 250 tonnes of R22 a year. As it has become less common the price has increased markedly leading to high levels of retention, reclamation, and reuse, causing the volume received to fall well below 30 tonnes per annum.

Calculating Percentage of Recovery

Applications for new refrigerant (tonnes)
OEM 305
New Installations 588
Automotive Service 677
Dom AC Service 350
Comm/Ind/Dom Service 1148
Total Sales   3068
Available for Recovery   Range of Estimations
Automotive Service 200 300
Dom AC Service 100 200
Comm/Ind/Dom Service 300 500
EOL Vehicles 200 250
EOL AC 600 900
EOL Commercial 300 400
Available for Recovery   1700 2550
Amount Retained for Reuse -1000 -1550
Amount Available to be Returned 700 1000
Amount Returned to RRA 470 470
Percentage Recovery   67% 47%

NB: Based on the volume collected in 2019/20