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Change has only just begun

06 March 2015

The new F-Gas Regulations came into force on 1 January 2015, but as Dave Ball, Engineering Director at J & E Hall explains, this is just the beginning of a raft of changes which will have a lasting effect on both the supermarket and the food processing industry.

Many HFC refrigerants, once viewed as a safe alternative to CFCs and HCFCs which deplete the ozone layer, are going to be phased out in the next five years. Changes to European-wide regulations mean that many refrigerants used in the supermarket and food processing industry will need to be replaced.

The first F-Gas regulation EC 842/2006 was introduced in 2006 and it highlighted the global warming potential (GWP) of HFC refrigerants being released into the atmosphere and focused on reducing emissions through training and certification, regular leak checking and recovery, as well as limited bans on some products.

The revised F-Gas regulations, EC 517/2014, aim to reduce HFC emissions from an estimated 90 million tonnes, CO2 equivalent in 2005, to 35 million tonnes, CO2 equivalent by 2030. And while the original F-Gas regulations ran to 15 articles, these new regulations have 27 articles, designed to control the production and import of HFCs in Europe and banning the use of equipment and systems with high GWP refrigerants.

It is worth noting that the regulations are now based on the tonnes CO2 equivalent, which is the refrigerant GWP divided by 1000 and multiplied by the system charge in kilograms, rather than the weight of the refrigerant in the system. The regulations specify the GWP of each refrigerant and the method to determine the GWP of HFC blends. These GWP values are based on the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shows an increase in the GWP values from earlier reports.

The revised F-Gas regulations have been set out to prevent emissions and control the use of HFC gases. The first step for operators to comply with the new regulations is to identify all refrigerants and the quantity used in each system because this information is required to assess whether there is a change in the leak checking intervals and a possible need for fixed automatic leak detectors. Each refrigeration system should be treated separately. 

Previous regulations required the operators of systems with between three and 30 kilograms of HFC refrigerant to check for leaks every year. Now, this should be undertaken if the refrigerant has an equivalent CO2 GWP of between five and 50 tonnes. This means that for refrigerant R404a, which has a GWP of 3922, leak checks must be carried out every year on systems containing between 1.27 and 12.7 kilograms of the popular refrigerant.

Before, if a system held between 30 kilograms and 300 kilograms, the leak test had to be carried out every six months or each year if an automatic leak detection system was installed. Now if the refrigerant CO2 is between 50 and 500 tonnes, leak testing is required every six months. For R404a, this is between 12.7 and 127 kilograms of refrigerant.

And for systems containing 300 kilograms or more of HFC refrigerant, the leak testing had to be carried out every three to six months if an automatic leak detection system was fitted. Now, a system with the equivalent of 500 tonnes CO2 or more must have a fixed automatic leak detection system and be manually leak tested every six months. The detection system fitted must automatically alert the operator or service provider of the leak so it is repaired without undue delay. This essentially means that there is now a requirement for R404a systems with 127 kilograms or more of a refrigerant to have a fixed leak detection system fitted. All leak detection systems must be checked and calibrated every 12 months.

Other examples of commonly used HFC refrigerants with a high GWP are R507a (GWP 3985), R422A (GWP 3143), R422D (GWP 2729), R434A (GWP 3245) and R428A (GWP 3607). For some HFC refrigerants, the requirement for a fixed leak detection system is now higher than the previous charge of 300 kilograms. For example, R134a has a system charge for 500 tonnes CO2 equivalent is 350 kilograms and above.

Operators will have to check the tonnes CO2 equivalent using the refrigerant GWP and weight charge in each system, arrange for manual leak tests to be carried out at the appropriate interval and fit fixed leak detection systems where necessary. And even if the equivalent CO2 is less than 500 tonnes, it may still be beneficial to install a fixed leak detection system to reduce the number of manual leak tests and ensure the plant efficiency is not compromised. 

Things to keep in mind
There are sections of the F-gas regulations that will have no immediate impact on the operation of existing refrigerating systems but should be taken into consideration before investing in new plants and when looking at the operating life of systems with high GWP refrigerants.

Details of products and equipment that will be prohibited from being placed on the market are given in Article 11 and Annex III of the new regulations. Article 13 places a ban on using HFC refrigerants with a GWP of 2500 to service systems with a charge size of 40 tonnes CO2 equivalent or more from 1 January 2020, unless the refrigerant has been recovered or recycled. This becomes a total ban on the use of HFC with GWP 2500 and higher by 2030.

Article 15 introduces a gradual reduction in the production of HFCs from 100% in 2015 to 21% by 2030. The details provided from 2009 to 2012 by producers and importers of HFCs under the previous F-Gas regulations will be used to allocate quotas in future years.

Because the base line and reduction in HFCs is to be calculated by tonnes equivalent CO2, the actual weight of HFC refrigerants produced and imported could in theory and probably will in practice actually increase, provided the CO2 equivalent is below the quota for that year. This reduction in the production / import of HFCs will ensure that a move to low GWP refrigerants and blends is inevitable.

Carbon dioxide was used as a refrigerant in the early part of the 20th Century and with a GWP of one, it is an option for those countries in the northern latitudes where the lower ambient temperatures allow energy efficiency to be maintained for most of the year. 

Supermarkets have been investing in new systems with lower GWP refrigerants, CO2 and hydrocarbons (HC). Carbon dioxide in cascade with a low GWP HFC or HC refrigerant high stage has been trialled with success. And provided the charge is low, display cabinets with integral refrigeration plants can use HC refrigerants. 

Supermarkets and larger convenience should be aware that although refrigerants with a GWP of 2500 or more are targeted in the new F-Gas regulations, from January 2022, multipack centralised refrigeration systems for commercial use with a capacity of 40kW or more will be prohibited from being placed on the market if the refrigerant GWP is 150 or higher. This will affect operators unless the refrigerant is used in the primary circuit (high stage) of a cascade system when refrigerants with GWP less than 1500 may be used. 

For managers and refrigeration engineers who work in the food processing and supermarket industries, change may seem to be slow, or perhaps even a long way off. But this is not the case, and long term planning should begin now to be able to keep up with these changes. Change is already with us and for further advice on how it will affect your business, you should talk to your refrigeration maintenance team or equipment supplier, who will be able to keep your business on track and within the right guidelines.

Erratum: In the March issue of Food Processing, this feature featured the following mistake: Dave Hall, Engineering Director at J & E Hall. The correct text is Dave Ball, Engineering Director at J & E Hall. Food Processing apologises for this error and any inconvenience it may have caused.

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