Embracing F-gas

John Skelton urges the HVAC industry to recognise that leak detection is a useful tool and should be given serious consideration in view of forthcoming F-Gas regulations.

F-Gas is the current buzzword within the HVAC industry, instilling a sense of gloom among those responsible for compliance, as air conditioning systems using Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) technology will come under the new regulations. The thought of more frequent inspections coupled with possible fines and hours of extra work may seem like unnecessary hassle, but adopting an holistic refrigerant management strategy can bring significant benefits to the bottom line. Currently 75 per cent of the UK’s refrigerant is being manufactured to top up leakages in existing air conditioning and refrigeration systems. With this in mind, the new F-Gas legislation makes sense.

Organisations need to take the long-term view of legislation and use it as an opportunity to streamline processes, cut wastage and reduce environmental damage. Taking proactive measures such as installing a fixed leak detection system as part of an overall refrigerant management strategy is a sensible first step. The environmental concerns alone should compel decision makers in the industry to sit up and take notice. Add this to the cash saving benefits of reducing leakage and you have a powerful business case.

F-Gas legislation states that operators of refrigeration, air conditioning and heat reclaim pump equipment should ‘use all methods which are technically feasible and do not cause disproportionate cost’ to prevent leakage of fluorinated greenhouse gases and repair any detected leakage as quickly as possible.

The legislation further specifies under the Leakage Inspection Directive that monitoring for emissions on new and existing refrigeration or air conditioning systems will take place on a more regular basis by certified inspectors. All equipment with a charge of 3kg or more will be inspected annually; those with a charge of 30kg or more with a fixed leak detection system in place will also be inspected once per year while those without leak detection will be inspected twice per year. Systems with a charge of 300kg or more with leak detection will be inspected twice per year and systems without leak detection will be inspected four times per year. If an air conditioning system has a refrigerant charge in excess of 300kg, installation of a fixed multi-point refrigerant detection system will be obligatory.

Consultants and installers should also be aware that EN378 is still applicable. As refrigeration systems become larger the possibility of contravening these safety guidelines is a cause for concern. The installation of fixed leak detection systems will reduce the risk factors and ensure EN378 is not breached.

While some of the smarter organisations have already developed refrigerant management strategies, many more need to follow suit. For effective results, all relevant parties should be involved from the outset to ensure vision and goals are clearly communicated. Establishing a central objective to the process is key. Evaluate your current system and determine what would be of maximum benefit to your organisation. It’s all too easy to go for the first system you come across that will enable you to meet the legislation without considering other useful features which could bring added benefits. Taking the time at the outset will be well worth it later.

Once objectives are in place, the first step is to carry out a thorough systems audit. This will help you to select the most appropriate method of leak detection for your circumstances. Accuracy and reliability should be the main points of consideration during the selection process. But there are a number of alternative systems available and a good supplier will be able to discuss all the options.

A refrigerant management strategy should not end with the installation of equipment. An individual or team within the organisation needs to hold responsibility for analysing the data on a regular basis to effectively identify patterns and trends. Through close observation faulty systems or components can be identified quickly and corrected with minimum disruption. This will aid the process of containment and reduction of leaks as well as provide a strong business case for implementing effective and appropriate changes.

Lastly, companies must be urged to smarten up on the service and maintenance of equipment. To ensure you get the most from any system, you must be certain that all areas are properly covered and that a focused monitoring and reporting procedure is in place to make best use of your engineers’ time. Whichever option you go for should be compatible with any existing systems you have on site, such as the refrigeration controls system. It’s also advantageous to be able to gather data via a PC locally or via a bureau remotely.

F-Gas legislation might seem a burden but implementing a refrigerant management strategy is an effective solution which will help to reduce refrigerant usage, saving your business time and money. A system that loses 15 per cent of its refrigerant charge through leakage will see a 50 per cent drop in cooling capacity and a corresponding 100 per cent increase in energy consumption. With figures such as these, the argument is clear that leak detection is fundamental to minimising operating costs and meeting the F-Gas regulations.

John Skelton is Group Projects Manager of Parasense Limited