Refrigerant Reclaim Australia (RRA) is the voluntary product stewardship organisation for the Australian refrigerants industry. RRA is a not-for-profit organisation created to work nationally with industry to share the responsibility for, and costs of, recovering, reclaiming and destroying surplus and unwanted refrigerants.
RRA’s charter is to improve the industry’s environmental performance by reducing the level of emissions of ozone depleting substances (ODS) and greenhouse gases (GHG) through its take-back program. Since being established in 1993, RRA has become integral in the management of used and unwanted refrigerants, and the reduction in emissions of ozone depleting and synthetic greenhouse gas refrigerants.
Created by industry, for industry, RRA has achieved global recognition for its work in preventing emissions, and has to date been responsible for the collection and destruction of over 5000 tonnes of gases that otherwise would have contributed to ozone depletion and global warming.
Toxfree assisted RRA by utilising a unique Plascon® technology. Plascon® is a world leading technology for the environmentally responsible destruction of complicated and hazardous waste streams.
The Plascon® process is a system utilising the extremely high temperatures present in a plasma arc to completely decompose the molecules present in a waste stream. Plascon® is designed to treat concentrated hazardous wastes such as ODS and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP’s) that others either can’t destroy or would rather avoid. The technology has been approved by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in Australia, Japan, England, Mexico and the USA and is currently being used in a number of applications in Australia, Mexico and the USA.
Toxfree currently operates two Plascon® systems. One in our Narangba facility which is used for the destruction of POP’s such as Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB’s), scheduled pesticides and other chlorinated liquids, and the other is located at the Laverton North facility where it destroys ODS, refrigerant gas and other greenhouse gases such as SF6.
Toxfree employee, Plant Manager, Michael Girgis talks about what it was like to be involved in the first ‘Plascon® Process’.
The first Plascon® process to destroy ODS and synthetic greenhouse gases (SGG) substance was conducted in February 1997 at the first National Halon Bank in Tottenham, Victoria. The National Halon Bank was established by the Australian Government in 1993 to store decommissioned halon for destruction or reclamation, to meet essential uses until an alternative was found for all current uses. Halons are firefighting agents that were introduced into Australia in the early 1970s. They quickly replaced many previously accepted firefighting products because of their superior firefighting characteristics and ease of use.
Halons are fully halogenated chemicals that have relatively long lifetimes in the atmosphere. They are broken down in the stratosphere releasing reactive bromine that is extremely damaging to ozone. Reactions involving bromine are estimated to be responsible for 25 per cent of the chemical destruction of ozone over Antarctica and 50 per cent over the Arctic. The ozone depleting potential of halons is 10 times greater than that of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s). As such, halons are a very aggressive ozone depleting chemical. One kilogram of halon 1211 can destroy 50 tonnes of ozone.
Australia continues to be a world leader in the phasing out of ozone depleting substances and has made significant advances in the responsible management and phasing out of halon in Australia.
Since ceasing the import of halons at the end of 1992 and with new halon no longer available inside the country, Australia’s success with halon phase out resulted in stocks of halon rapidly accumulating within government, business and the community from the decommissioning of halon firefighting systems and portable equipment.
At the time of this first process, Michael Girgis was completing six months of industry training with SRL Plasma (a division of Siddons Ramset Limited Plasma) for his chemical engineering course at Swinburne University. He was fortunate enough to be part of the team on the day, employed as a process engineer, later to become a full time employee after graduation. In the first few years hundreds of tonnes of halons were destroyed, mainly Halon 1211 and some 1301 for the Department of Environment. One of Michael’s proudest moments was being a part of the team when SRL Plasma were awarded the Society of Chemical Industry, Plant Of The Year Award for the Plascon® process in 1998. It was quite an achievement to destroy that amount of halons in the first few years as halon was banned for use in 1995, after the Ozone Protection Act came in place in 1989.
In order to cater for the safe disposal of halon, the Commonwealth committed resources in 1992 to establish a purpose built facility, the National Halon Bank, to collect and store surplus halons and then safely dispose of them using the Plascon® process. The bank was established in a Government Business Enterprise named the Department of Administrative Services Centre for Environmental Management (DASCEM). Following a decision to dispose of Government Business enterprises in 1997, the National Halon Bank was incorporated into the Department of Finance and Administration. DASCEM was taken over in a management buyout and continued to manage the facility under contract to the Commonwealth. The National Halon Bank was transferred to the Department of the Environment and Heritage in 1999.
By 1999, there were four Plascon® processes nation-wide, one at Tottenham Victoria treating ODS and SGG, two at Nufarm in Laverton to treat waste chlorophenols from their 2,4-D herbicide manufacturing process and the fourth at BCD Technologies in Narangba treating POP’s such as PCB oils and Organo-Chlorine Pesticides (OCP’s).
In June 2000 Siddons Ramset was bought out by Illinois Tool Works and consequently SRL Plasma was sold to one of its customers; BCD Technologies, Narangba QLD.
Michael continued working for BCD Technologies at the National Halon Bank in Tottenham, treating mainly SGG gases (CFC) for Refrigerant Reclaim Australia. By this time Michael was the only employee left to run and manage the plant and continued to do so for a few years. During that time a few changes took place; Dolomatrix bought out BCD technologies and then were acquired by Toxfree in 2012.
In 2013 the National Halon Bank at Tottenham closed down and the Plascon® operations were moved to Toxfree Laverton.
Through his years involved with the Plascon® Process, Michael saw the Australian technology improve and the Plascon® technology was sold to America, Mexico, Britain and Japan.
Toxfree continue to make a difference to the environment by destroying CFC through the running of the Plascon® technology. RRA recently celebrated the recovery and destruction of 5,000 tonnes of ozone depleting and synthetic greenhouse gas refrigerants, saving 10 million tonnes of ozone. That was another proud moment for Michael and quite an achievement for Toxfree and RRA.