The F-Gas regulations place a great deal of emphasis on leak reduction, so detection will inevitably have a major role to play in the refrigeration industry’s response to the passing of the regulations into law.
The changes due to begin phasing in from 1st January 2015 have profound implications for leak detection regimes, including the facts that:
Lower HFC production will mean higher prices and shortage of supply, making leaks ever more costly and replacement gas ever harder to source.
Owners of smaller retail systems will need to adopt new leak inspection regimes now that their exceptions have been removed.
Issues around the flammability and volatility of replacement lower-GWP gases will make leak detection not just a cost and environmental issue but a core safety concern.
The good news is that the leak detection industry is already responding to these challenges with innovative technology which is a world away from first-generation detection electronics.
The bad news is that there are still far too many myths surrounding what is, and isn’t, possible in leak detection – myths which are holding back the deployment of appropriate, effective and best-practice systems.
“Leak detectors are only effective in the plant room.”
It is true that the majority of existing systems already installed in response to the F-Gas regulations have proved to be most effective when dealing with leaks in and around the plant room.
With sensitivity above 25ppm, fixed-point sensors and limited sensor range they have struggled to spot smaller leaks and those around the wider store.
To spot low level leaks they have to be right on top of them, wherever they occur in the store – which of course leaves the majority of leaks undetected, often for years.
However, the latest generation of infra-red leak detectors tackles this myth head-on with a combination of improved detection accuracy, longer sampling ranges and improved sensor location.
Detection rates are now down to 1ppm, sampling distances up to 1,200ft without a booster pump and, crucially, the introduction of fully-portable handheld units like the RCS-Bacharach PGM-IR that can operate anywhere at all means that whole-store (and beyond) coverage is perfectly possible.
“Leak detectors only find the biggest leaks.”
The 25ppm sensitivity of traditional electronic detectors has indeed left engineers struggling to find smaller leaks with a range of manual interventions such as fluorescent additives and spray detector / soapy water sprays – a costly, time-consuming and frustrating process.
But again the latest generation of infra-red detectors are now changing this for ever. With detection rates down to just 1ppm there is no reason that a properly installed, maintained and managed leak detection system shouldn’t detect even the lowest level leaks.
“Leak detectors don’t work in cold or already contaminated areas, or outside.”
Detectors which look for changes in concentration, which zero background concentrations or are disrupted by changes in temperature have earned a reputation among engineers of being all but impossible to use in coldrooms and cabinets, in areas with existing contamination from more than one leak, or outside the store.
Again, the latest generation of detectors has changed that completely. A unit like the RCS-Bacharach PGM-IR, as well as being hand-held and fully portable to reach these locations, shows actual concentration in real time.
Meaning that leaks in these so-called detection proof environments are now as detectable as any other leak.
“Leak detection is too complicated and unaffordable for smaller systems.”
This belief, prevalent among the owners of smaller retail systems, has now become particularly problematic as a result of the new thresholds that are bringing smaller systems into a tighter leak detection regime.
There are two issues at work here: one around the technology and one around awareness.
Inevitably it is often the case that those who have responsibility for a small number of smaller systems are less aware of the issues and timetables surrounding the F-Gas regulations, of the latest technology that’s available in the marketplace, and of other key factors such as the importance of properly planned preventative maintenance.
The good news is that certainly as far as the equipment is concerned, there needs be no obstacle to a comprehensive – and affordable – solution.
With recent improvements in technology, new lower cost options like the MGS250 IR sensor are ideal for small scale installations. This new generation product uses a proprietary infrared sensor which provides reliable refrigerant detection at a very reasonable price point.
The straightforward nature of the product allows for quick and easy installation with audible and visual indicators, and the multiple outputs can be connected to just about any refrigeration or energy management system.
“We’ve still got plenty of time to tackle leaks.”
The Number 1 myth that everyone involved is trying to dispel. Although the regulations don’t start to fall into place until 1st January 2015, prices rises on today’s most popular refrigerants will bite sooner than you might expect as supply and demand issues take hold – and even availability could become a serious problem.
As so many in the industry have already said, ‘business as usual’ is not an option. Despite years of debate and warning, leaks of up to 30% of the charge during a year are still not uncommon in commercial and industrial refrigeration systems. And, once you get past the myths and misapprehensions about leak detections, it is clear that rates simply don’t have to be this high.
With careful adherence to best practice in service, maintenance, leak testing and repair, allied to the latest generation of electronic leak detection equipment, refrigerant losses can and must be managed as part of any business’ overall response to the F-Gas legislation.
This article, authored by RCS Product Manager Simon Liddiard, first appeared in RAC Magazine, October 2014.