As the dictates of F-Gas should mean people focus closely on leakage, it is important they don’t fall for the common myths about effectiveness, cost or complexity, says Simon Liddiard
The F-Gas regulations place a great deal of emphasis on leak reduction, so detection will inevitably have a major role to play. The changes due to begin phasing in from 1 January 2015 have profound implications for leak detection regimes, not least that reductions in HFC production will mean higher prices, making leaks ever more costly to the owner.
On top of that issues around the flammability and volatility of some lower-GWP gases will make leak detection not just a cost and environmental issue but a safety one too.
The good news is that the leak detection industry is already responding to these challenges with innovative technology that 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.
Myth 1: 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 25 ppm, 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.
However, the latest generation of infra-red leak detectors tackles this problem with a combination of improved detection accuracy, longer sampling ranges and improved sensor location.
Detection rates are now down to 1 ppm, sampling distances up to 366 m without a booster pump and, crucially, the introduction of fully-portable handheld units such as the RCS-Bacharach PGM-IR
that can operate anywhere means that whole-store coverage is perfectly possible.
Myth 2: Leak detectors only find big leaks, not small ones
The 25 ppm 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 changing this for ever, with detection rates down to just 1 ppm. There is no reason that a properly installed, maintained and managed leak detection system shouldn’t detect even the lowest level leaks.
Myth 3: Leak detectors don’t work in cold or contaminated areas - or outside
Detectors that identify 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 more than one leak, or outside the store.
Again, the latest generation of detectors has changed that completely. An infra-red detector such as the PGM-IR shows actual concentration in real time, meaning that leaks are now as detectable as anywhere else.
Myth 4: Leak detection technology is too complicated and expensive to invest in for smaller systems
This belief 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 the other 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, or of the latest technology that’s available in the marketplace – or for that matter of the importance of properly planned preventative maintenance.
With recent improvements in technology, new lower cost options such as the MGS250 IR sensor are ideal for small scale installations. 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.
Myth 5: We’ve still got plenty of time to tackle leaks
This is the myth that everyone at the sharp end is trying to dispel. Although the regulations don’t start to take effect until 1 January 2015 and beyond, prices rises on refrigerants are sure to come into play as supply and demand issues take hold – and even availability could become a serious problem.
Despite years of debate and warning, leaks of up to 30 per cent of the charge during a year are still not uncommon in commercial and industrial refrigeration systems.
As was said at RAC’s F-Gas Question Time, “business as usual is not an option.”
But 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
Simon Liddiard is Product Manager for RCS Energy Management