A-Gas’s acquisitions in the U.S. will set it up for a significant expansion
into North America, including the international rollout of its refrigerant
This year, A-Gas celebrates its 20th year in business, but no time in those
two decades has been quite as busy as last year. The past 12 months have seen
intense activity as the Bristol refrigerant distributor and reclaimer bought two
U.S. specialists, Coolgas and RemTec, and set up a fully fledged North American
division. The firm has transplanted U.K. managing director Ken Logan to oversee
the establishment of the U.S. operations for the next two years at least.
The acquisition of the U.S. businesses, plus a further distributor in
Australia, Technochem, has seen the A-Gas Intl. group top £100 million turnover
for 2012, with a worldwide headcount of 237.
“A-Gas is now the largest independent refrigerant player outside of the
U.S.,” said Jon Masters, European managing director. “Our core territories are
in the U.K., South Africa, and Australia, in each of which we have a 30-35
percent market share. So we were keen to try and take that offering to the U.S.
— it was the right opportunity in terms of the business and the regulatory
That framework is the U.S. phase out of HCFCs and the probable phase down of
HFCs, expected to closely follow the European Commission’s proposed F-Gas model
— although progressive states like California are already bringing in more
The particular attraction of RemTec is that its core business is halon
reclamation. Although these are largely from fire suppressants, this offers the
right range of skills and technology to allow an expansion into refrigerant
reclamation. This is where A-Gas brings its own skills to bear, said Masters.
“We can bring our reclamation knowhow, and the benefit of the U.K. experience of
selling the reclaimed HCFC product. The U.S. market is maybe four or five years
behind Europe, but it is rapidly developing, and the EPA [Environmental
Protection Agency] has announced more cuts in HCFC volume.”
The plan is for the RemTec operation to be brought up to the same standard
for refrigerant reclamation as A-Gas’s Bristol facilities by the end of this
The commercial implications of the rapid cuts should not be underestimated;
in the U.S. over the past year, virgin R-22 has increased in price from $3 per
pound to $15 per pound.
Coolgas, by contrast, is a conventional refrigerant distributor, but again
the purchase is strategic, providing a foothold in the Southwest, from which
A-Gas can build, with a brand name well known to the American market. It also
holds all-important import rights to HCFCs.
A foothold in such a large territory is a big deal in its own right, but the
potential is far bigger. “The U.S. business is roughly the same size as the U.K.
business, but whereas in the U.K. that brings a 30 percent market share, in the
U.S. it is only 2 percent of the market. It should be easier to double from 2-4
percent than from 30-60 percent.”
If the plans for reclamation at RemTec go well, it could be joined by other
sites. While the U.K. can function well with a single reclamation site, the
scale of the U.S. is likely to require a network of two or three more. With
reclaimed HCFC expected to be useable in the U.S. beyond 2020, that is an
attractive long-term target.
In a relatively short time, refrigerant recovery and reclamation has become a
serious business for A-Gas. Its environmental services operations now account
for around 20 percent of turnover (refrigerants is the largest proportion at 60
U.K. business director John Ormerod said, “What we do falls into two areas:
cleaning up dirty gas by removing contaminants and separating out gases from
“We probably lead the world in refrigerant reclamation. There is only one
other company in the U.K. and three in the U.S. who can separate refrigerants
like we do,” he said.
The separation facilities at Bristol have come on apace since the pioneering
days when its technology could be housed in a corner of the warehouse. The
original plant is still in situ, but it has been joined by Separator 3, located
outside the warehouse and large enough to be able to accommodate tanker-sized
volumes of refrigerant, with a capacity to process around 400 tonnes a year.
Although the precise technology is secret, both plants are designed to
reclaim refrigerant to Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute
(AHRI) 700 standards, as well as being able to split mixed refrigerants into
usable batches and to reclaim individual gases from cocktails of recovered
refrigerant. The latter is where A-Gas claims distinctiveness, as “the only
supplier who has both the technology and the capacity to provide this level of
Content for the European Spotlight is provided courtesy of Refrigeration and
Air Conditioning Magazine, London. For more information, visit