REFRIGERANTS Counting the cost of leaks

Refrigerant gases play a vital role in cold storage and industrial refrigeration but if a leak occurs, the impact can not only be costly, but also potentially harmful. Shaun Evers, managing director of Stonegate Instruments, explains how sophisticated new gas detection technologies can cut down on gas leaks and save on the related costs.


s the F-Gas quotas continue to bite, with the next step in the phase-down of refrigerant gases under the European F-Gas Regulations edging closer, the price of refrigerants continue to rise. In fact, a 600% increase in the cost of gases such as R404a and R507a was reported last year alone . Whilst wholesalers set record price rises of up to 60% on the same refrigerants in 2017 .

With fresh F-Gas legislation governing both new equipment and service or maintenance applications due to be introduced in 2020, gas leak detection has once again been thrust into the spotlight meaning HVAC and refrigeration professionals need to have the systems in place not only to ensure safety, but also compliance. The cost of failing to address refrigerant gas leaks should not be underestimated. In fact, it is estimated that £40 million per annum could be saved on energy costs if the amount of refrigerant gas leaks were reduced – a significant figure which shouldn’t be ignored. Gas leaks cause cold stores to work harder to maintain the refrigeration equipment’s cooling capacity, increasing the energy consumption, and the associated costs. They can also cost companies in terms of service call-out charges and for top-up gases.

With many refrigeration units currently in use outdated, having been designed and built over 20 years ago, at a time when energy efficiency was not the issue it is today, the problem has only been further compounded for an industry already under pressure to reduce their environmental impact. As a result of inefficient operation, a number of systems are using substantial amounts of unnecessary energy, as well as costing more than necessary to keep in operation. Gas leaks are one problem area which can have a huge effect on the amount of energy by consumed by a cold store. According to a study

48 March 2019

by the Institute of Refrigeration (IOR) and the Carbon Trust, a leak of just 1kg of refrigerant gas can cause the same environmental damage as driving a van 10,000 miles. With leaks of up to 30% of the charge during a year not uncommon, the need for preventative measures is essential, not only to save your own costs but also to cut down on the environmental impact. With this in mind, organisations that have not yet addressed their use of F-Gas should do so to avoid potentially excessive refrigerant costs. A number of factors can lead to leaks occurring. Equipment failure, improper maintenance work, mechanical damage, and accidental release during refrigerant replenishment can all cause a potentially damaging leak. Reducing leakages not only saves energy, as a leaking refrigeration system has to work harder to maintain temperatures, but it also reduces unnecessary costs on energy bills.

Leading-edge solutions

There is positive news for today’s refrigerant professionals, however. Much like the legislation that addresses refrigerant gas leaks, the state-of- the-art technology that can protect against them is continuously evolving, meaning refrigeration professionals are now better armed than ever before to ensure leaks are kept to a minimum. Whilst gas leaks are similarly hazardous both to a company’s bottom line and to the environment, the solution is quite simple - gas detection systems are a vital piece of equipment that offer peace-of-mind to cold store owners and operators.

The use of a gas detection system can help ensure that leaks are identified and repaired, which is especially essential just before the refrigerant gas is topped up. This is not only to minimise environmental damage or the impact on the health and safety of the workforce but it is

actually a legal requirement and is part of the EU F-Gas Regulations.

While they are vital for powering cold storage and industrial refrigeration, refrigerants still carry a significant threat to the health and safety of workers and should be continuously monitored by organisations and HVAC professional alike. To ensure the safety of their workforce, organisations are taking advantage of the specialised features of sophisticated gas detection technology. In some state-of-the-art gas detection systems, for instance, refrigerant sensors paired with LED colour indicators, can be pre-set to automatically indicate the presence of any sensed gas leak, sounding an audio alarm and displaying a visual prompt to alert staff members immediately so that the problem can be quickly rectified.

Such technology plays a vital role in the early identification and stoppage of leaks. This is particularly prevalent when you consider that 60% of gas escapes before an employee notices, showing that it can’t be left to the workforce to notice when leaks occurs. Gas detector systems are ideal for providing constant coverage of the whole of the cold store, to stop leaks quickly and to minimise potential damage. Great strides have been made in the capabilities of modern gas detection systems, many can be programmed to detect a wide range of both toxic and non-toxic gases, including CFCs, HCFCs, HFCs and CO2. Whilst some systems even offer innovative battery back-up options, further protecting against gas leaks in the event of a power outage.

With the installation of a gas detection system a business can reduce energy costs, cut carbon emissions, and demonstrate corporate responsibility. With a payback period of less than two years, this technology offers a simple solution for businesses across all sectors.

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