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RAC Natural Refrigerants Roundtable debate - Part 1

Our latest Round Table debate brought together refrigeration chiefs to consider the rise of natural refrigerants.

Attendees

Julian Milnes, RAC

Nick Rivers, Ryan Jayberg

Ray Gluckman, SKM Enviros

Judith Evans, R,D&T

Barry Lyons, BOCand ACRIB

Peter Terry, Waitrose

Les King, Waitrose

Terry March –EmersonClimate Technologies

Kevin Glass, Bitzer

Graeme Ogilvie, Consultant

Eddie Gittoes, BRA, Arctic Circle

Stephen Gill, Consultant

Rob Lamb, Star Refrigeration

Andrew Gaved, RAC

Are we ready for natural refrigerants?

Nick Rivers   Of course the industrial sector has been more than ready for natural refrigerants, I don’t think it’s a problem at all for them. It’s the commercial sector that needs to catch up, possibly due to the speed of the introduction. I think it’s the numbers of engineers that need to be trained to get a spread across the whole country. When you do a limited trial it’s easy to manage, you have dedicated people looking after the whole process. But if you have 50 sites you’re now spreading that resource wider - then when you get to 150 sites, things become a bit more difficult, in terms of trained personnel

Peter Terry   It’s no more than a change cycle. What we are doing now is new, so we just have to figure out what we need to do: what structure we need, what support, what resources. It’s about identifying all that stuff up front, figuring out ‘what does the normal business look like? Ultimately it’s about supporting the equipment for both installation and service, which are both distinct areas. Does it need the same support as now, or does it need to have a different offer?

Nick Rivers   The difference between commercial and retail is that retail needs a far quicker speed of response - whether that’s down to the design, if something goes pop, then that can be a major issue so that probably drives the need for more bodies to react to any call or response.

Ray Gluckman  I see it as a total reverse to the way you describe it, coming from an industrial perspective, in that the load in industrial refrigeration is higher and the necessity to keep it going is higher. I ask myself why the industrial sector can cope with things like ammonia.  I think that half the answer is that they spend more money on the kit and secondly they have people there all the time, so that if it falls over they can fix it. You have an oil platform, which if the fridge plant falls over, the costs are phenomenal. So they have people on site all the time.

Peter Terry  But it is relative to the risk assessment isn’t it Ray. Because with an oil platform, you have to have people there as you can’t wait for someone to turn up in a van.

Eddie Gittoes The markets have different cost structures: the commercial sector is driven by the supermarkets, where their cost taken a pasting by issues such as F-Gas, HFCs etc which have needed a lot more controls. We as a supply chain are trying to achieve their demands as consistently and as safely as possible.

As you may know, the Carbon Trust, the BRA and the IOR are working to set up a Code of Conduct for the sector, which will include a number of issues such as sector training, natural refrigeration. As an industry we have had to make it up as the technology evolves, so now we have to try to knit this all together, so it is no longer an individual approach but an industry approach. We are in some respects lagging behind, but we are hoping to do something about the fragmentation.

When you think about it, the last 20 years has actually been very kind to the commercial refrigeration sector - it’s virtually been living off one HFC gas and its made people think that they are better than they are. The skill level has declined, so the specialism hasn’t been there. Now we have had a major change and more training is needed. The industry has to up its game substantially over the next couple of years. And that’s the dilemma. How we get that to happen

Barry Lyons  I think you have hit the nail on the head with training. All of a sudden we have a whole raft of supermarkets of unfamiliar gases – whether it be hydrocarbon or carbon dioxide and they’ve never been exposed to this. And so you get people trying to find ‘the old guy who knows CO2’.

Graham Ogilvie  If you go back 40-50 years, all these refrigerants we are using now were available then.  We had R12, R502, that was great for the commercial industry, subsequently that was challenged, then banned, so then we went back to R22, saying ‘that’s the solution’ – but you look at the legacy we have now got with that. The same process is going on now. I’m not saying you ‘don’t do it’ but if you’re going to go onto CO2 then the whole mindset has to change, you can t approach it in the same way we did 50 years ago.

Les King Its worth remembering that R22 wasn’t banned because it was a poor refrigerant, it was banned because it leaked. We need to look at containment. That’s where ammonia has the edge, because if it leaks, you have got a problem.

Rob Lamb  The difference when we are talking about training is that in retail we have a significantly larger number of people, so it’s a greater challenge. The ammonia industry whilst there is a lot of plant, there aren’t thousands of engineers, you are probably talking two or three hundred.

 

One thing that has to be addressed in the light of the Tesco CO2 incident in Manchester - because inevitably there’s already a ripple from the engineers of ‘oh we’ve gone into this too quickly’ -  is, are we running at this technology too fast?

Kevin Glass  The challenge is to find exactly what happened. But what we do know with CO2 is that it only needs a slight mistake for lots to go wrong.  From what I know about  the Tesco incident, if it had been an ammonia plant, the same thing would have happened.

Nick Rivers  – From what I understand it was a catastrophic failure, but had this been an R22 plant or had any refrigerant pipe gone at that time, in that location in that supermarket then the same sort of thing would have happened.

Eddie Gittoes – I think that the safety authorities will address these issues in their inquiry. But in answer to the original question, I think the industry has approached CO2 in a safe way, but perhaps not in the most holistic way and that is what we are trying to address with the Code of Conduct. Anyone who imagines we have not moved forward in a safe manner is totally wrong.

We are looking to set out industry best practice, and we are looking to harmonise the current short training courses in CO2, with any differences for the individual retailers included as addendums, and to create a course for hydrocarbons.

 

See RACplus.com next week for Part 2 of the Natural Refrigerants Roundtable

Readers' comments (2)

  • I have just read your round table debate on the use on natural refrigerants, now entering the commercial/retail side of the industry. There are some key points that need to be addressed in order for the commercial side of the industry to embrace natural refrigerants, the main one is

    Confidence.

    Confidence covers a variety of areas. Engineers at present are hearing so many stories from various sources,. The obvious one being weakness in pipework and subsequent fitting failure in a few stores and i appreciate this can happen on a R404a system, but as these systems have brazed pipework, they are very rare. There has been other issues with hoses on plant bursting and losing charge and the sites i am involved in, We are spending too much time chasing leaks on fittings, despite these stores being pressure tested.

    Now when engineers hear the scare stories, they become suspicious and wary and try to give these jobs a wide berth, some like myself jump in and get on with it, but understand other engineers concerns and this brings me to the training.

    At present companies need to do a separate course for each retailer at roughly £1000 per engineer, now if you are a national contractor and have one or more retailer using C02 and have 30-40 engineers its a big hit for a company to take on the chin. I appreciate that there is a possibility of city and guilds being introduced and i hope this happens as there is a lot of employment movement every year in retail and would be benificial as companys do not have to re-train, new engineers on customer specific courses , but this does not help contractors at present.

    Most of the training concerns health and safety and some practical training, but mostly health and saftey. Which is very important, but there after you have just to get on with it and find your way as not all courses can tell you everything and cannot cover all problems that may arise.

    I think on a more practical level for the present, that retailer should allow companys to have individuals with in the companys to be trained to a standard that they can train engineers with in that company and the within that company trainers have to be assesed every year, to make sure that they are providing adequate training.( i know training companys wont like this) as these engineers wiil provide technical help as they will be coming across all problems and thus help the retailer in getting issues resolved quicker.

    If we as an industry want to go forward with natural refrigerants, we need the engineers in the field to buy into it, by showing them that there is a structure in place for training and technical help. Not as it seems at present, here it is, get on with it, that how it was done in my day!!! attitude.

    You may not agree with this view, but it is a view from a lot of field engineers out there and if the retailers want this to work, it needs to be a partnership, not cracking the whip as it has been for a long time.

    I look forward to part 2 of this debate

    Regards,

    Supermarketguy

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  • To Supermarketguy, can you email me on julian.milnes@emap.com to discuss possible publishing of comments in RAC magazine

    Regards

    Julian Milnes
    Deputy Editor

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