Ensuring compliance with EU regulations is like navigating a minefield. But with the right attitude the new refrigerant legislation could bring significant benefits to the bottom line
by Dan Radford
13 July 2007
One thing that is certainly keeping UK industry on its toes is the Kyoto Protocol. And it seems there's no end to the associated regulations that fall under the remit of FMs. On 4 July EU regulation 842/2006 came into force with the aim of reducing the release of specific fluorinated gases into the atmosphere. In short, FMs of organisations using stationary air-conditioning, refrigeration, chilling or heat pump systems need to be aware of how much fluorinated gas (F-gas) the equipment contains and how the regulations apply in their case.
Penalties are likely to involve hefty fines. Taking proactive measures to ensure compliance needs to be a priority - and with a strategic approach many businesses could realise significant cost savings.
Any facility with a refrigerant charge of more than 3kg must take "reasonable measures" to monitor its use of F-gas, improve containment and keep track of all activity with an auditable trail. There is a sliding scale of responsibility, with facilities containing in excess of a 300kg charge required to fit a fixed leak-detection system, conduct regular checks and repair any leaks within a set time frame.
Some sectors - such as commercial food processing - obviously use extensive refrigeration facilities as part of their core activity. But there are many other businesses that need to control temperature during production and storage: pharmaceutical, petrochemical, automotive and microchip manufacturers are all likely to be affected.
And it's not just manufacturing industries, large air-conditioned office complexes can also have a high refrigerant charge.
Is this important?
As with any utility, refrigerant leaks often go undetected for long periods of time. They gradually become bigger until the system loses a significant portion of its charge. Monitoring for leaks to catch them in the early stages significantly reduces emissions into the atmosphere, but also enables more cost effective management. A large food processing facility, for instance, can lose tens of thousands of pounds every year as a result of refrigerant leakage.
Look at it this way, a system losing just 15 per cent of its refrigerant charge through leakage could easily experience a 50 per cent drop in cooling capacity and a corresponding 100 per cent increase in energy consumption. Add to this the potential loss of perishable goods - be that food stuff or pharmaceutical components - due to temperature fluctuation and you have a costly situation on your hands.
How can we benefit?
Whether your refrigerant charge is 3kg or 300kg the single most important action you can take is to develop a bespoke refrigerant management strategy based on the specific needs and circumstances. The first step is to conduct an audit of your current system and identify: your refrigerant charge; losses to leakage; legal requirements; further efficiency improvement.
If you do need to install equipment, take a long term view. Hand-held units might involve a lower initial outlay, but a more robust fixed system often brings greater associated savings. To ensure the most accurate readings and minimise servicing costs the best option is an infra-red system which can be programmed to detect trace levels of a variety of gases.
Whatever equipment you decide to use, the key factors have to be accuracy and reliability - there are numerous systems available and a good supplier will be able to discuss them all. But a sound refrigerant management strategy doesn't end with equipment installation. An individual or team within the organisation needs to hold responsibility for regularly analysing the data and acting swiftly when required to stop leakage. In most industries, the organisation of this is likely to fall into the FM's lap.
How to benefit from compliance
Establish your refrigerant charge:The three benchmarks for different tiers of compliance are 3kg, 30kg and 300kg - the more contained, the stricter the legislation
Devise a long term strategy: Work out the most cost effective approach to F-gas for your facility. Think about what's best for your site - a little more expense now could mean much bigger savings over time
Consider all your options: Talk to suppliers with a range of products so you have a good understanding of what's available
Gather and analyse data: Well formatted data can provide targeted management information leading to substantial savings as well as compliance with EC 842/2006
Distribute relevant information:Develop a system that enables managers to receive regular top-line analysis and facilities maintenance contractors to be alerted with precise details of the location, time and scale of leaks
Dan Radford is MD at Parasense