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REFRIGERANTS How to beat


rising refrigerant prices


Jason Ayres, application support engineer at Bacharach, looks at how leak detection can have a significant impact on the bottom line.


A


s the cost of refrigerant has increased dramatically during the past several years, leak detection and prevention has become a high priority for supermarkets, large chilling plants, food processing plants, cold storage facilities and large air conditioning installations.


Since 2017, the cost of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants has increased between 275-700%, especially in Europe with the F-Gas Regulations based on the global warming potential (GWP) of these gases. The older refrigerants with a high GWP are being gradually phased out in favor of newer compounds with a lower GWP that do not emit as much CO²


. As a result, refrigerant prices


have skyrocketed over the past year with this upward trend expected to continue worldwide. With these ongoing price increases, the cost of replacing refrigerant now far outweighs the cost of the technician’s time to locate and repair these leaks. That doesn’t take into account the cost of lost inventory, increased utility consumption, damaged or overworked equipment and potential fines from regulators. Dramatic price increases, along with a heightened concern for the environment, have motivated a significant change in operations strategy. Today, the goal of a refrigerant leak detection programme is to find small leaks before they become big and costly problems.


44 March 2019 Where do leaks occur?


The first question is where do leaks typically occur in a commercial refrigeration system? Leaks often occur in mechanisms where there are changes in temperature, pressure and vibration. Valves, pipe joints and compressors are often the location where leaks can occur. Leaks can also be caused by poor installation or maintenances procedures that are aggravated by these changes. Any device that is poorly restrained or supported within the system can also cause leakage. In some instances, leaks can also be caused by unintentional damage by a third party such as cleaning machines, trucks or forklifts.


It is important to note that the majority of refrigerant loss is due to a number of small leaks that often exist for a very long time, making them more difficult to detect. In a study of several million leak events, it was discovered that leakage from mechanical joints tends to be progressive, starting small and working their way up to full-blown events.


Leakage of refrigerant is often caused by a breakdown or failure of the equipment due to ageing resulting in failure of mechanical joints and seals. Aggravated by changes in temperature, pressure and vibration, some leaks come and go, making them very difficult and time- consuming to find.


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