The EU regulations controlling the use of fluorinated greenhouse gases, commonly found in air conditioning systems, are the subject of new guidance published by Defra
by David MacRae
06 October 2006
F Gas: what is it? How and why does it affect managers of premises as well as air conditioning service and manufacturing companies? F gas is not a new chemical compound that we are suddenly in danger from. It is better known as that group of gases called HFCs that superseded the once notorious and once miraculous CFCs, without which there would never have been any refrigeration or air conditioning. HFCs are hydrofluoro carbons or fluorinated gases - hence, in legislative jargon, F gases.
They concern us because they have a long-term impact on the global climate and because they are used in almost all current air conditioning systems. Therefore, legislation has been enacted to regulate their disposal, ensure their containment and promote efficient use. One of the more significant results of this regulation will be mandatory leak detection for many new and existing installations.
The regulation came into being in January this year, the UK government published its guidelines in August and all parts of it will be operative in the UK by July next year.
The intention of the regulation is to harmonise legislation relating to F gas use across Europe. The measures include: setting minimum standards for inspection of systems and recovery of refrigerant gases, strengthening monitoring and reporting of F gas emissions, introducing labelling of products and equipment so that consumers can make informed choices, and setting up minimum standards for training and certification of personnel.
Reducing refrigerant leakage, improving system design and efficiency as well as making clear arrangements for recovery of refrigerant during service work and recycling it at the end of the equipment's life have been priorities in the sector for some time now. The new legislation will produce further pressure on everyone to continue to improve system efficiency and find alternative refrigerants. It should enable the market to appreciate the efforts that the leading manufacturers have been making to bring in better technologies and more professional practices at increased cost.
Firstly, all of the common air conditioning refrigerants R134a, R404A, R407C, R410A are included. Secondly, operators of the air conditioning, refrigeration or fire protection equipment will be required to use all available measures to prevent leakage of F gases and to repair any detected leakage as soon as possible.
Any repair must be rechecked for leakage within one month. The regulation also provides a timetable for leak testing equipment and systems with a charge of 3kg or more:
At least once a year for applications containing 3kg or more of F gases (this does not apply to hermetically sealed systems containing less than 6kg)
At least once every six months for applications containing 30kg or more of F gases
At least once every three months for applications containing 300kg or more of F gases. In addition, these systems will be required to have permanent leak detection fitted.
Operators are also required to keep detailed records for inspection.
A likely area of confusion and controversy will be created by the regulation's definition of operators as "those exercising actual power over the technical functioning of the equipment/system". The government's guidance document waxes lyrical over this point for several pages, debating precisely what this might mean, but it seems that, in practice, 'the operator' is most likely to be the end-user or the equipment owners. However, it is going to be vital that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined in new maintenance contract documentation, as well as in job descriptions.
The introduction of this legislation may help to propagate an increased understanding of the use of these gases and of air conditioning over other less efficient means of heating and cooling. In the longer term, the emphasis on best practice and standards should all lead to the renewed professionalisation of an industry dogged in the past by 'cost-cutting cowboys'. There should, of course, also be large reductions in the use of F gases.
The EU is allowing each member state to design its own enforcement framework provided it is "effective, proportionate and dissuasive". Doing nothing will not be one of the options.
David MacRae is UK commercial director of Toshiba Air Conditioning
Action you can take right now
There are immediate steps that it will be advisable for FMs to undertake:
check or put in place appropriately worded maintenance contracts, defining responsibilities and ensuring certification of personnel
put in place appropriate record keeping systems
budget to install improved controls and leak detection or monitoring
FM QUICK FACTS
Air conditioning was invented in 1902 by New England engineer Dr Willis Carrier (below) but its original purpose was to keep machines cool, not people
Maintenance contracts are now essential to ensure warranties are valid and to comply with Part L of the Building Regulations
By volume, F gases currently account for only 2 per cent of total EU greenhouse gas emissions