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RAC Natural Refrigerants Roundtable debate - Part 2

RAC’s Natural Refrigerants Round Table debate continues, bringing together refrigeration chiefs to consider the rise of natural refrigerants…


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

Isn’t there just a tendency for this industry to panic about new technology? Or is it that a section of the engineering population are hoping thatnaturals will fail, so that they can go back to the relative safety of HFCs?


Barry Lyons  When you consider how many domestic fridges are out there that use the hydrocarbon technology, that incident last year with a fridge ‘exploding’ was miniscule in percentage terms. It’s not ideal, but there’s no need to panic.

Peter Terry  But have we really done things too quickly? How long do you leave it? You need to make a decision and let them follow.

Nick Rivers  In industrial sectors, it is often the consultant who is specifying the installation, whereas for commercial it is the client, the supermarket, who is driving development and telling the industry how to apply it. So you have got different retailers doing it their own way, so not only do engineers have to learn the technology, they have to learn a slightly different way of doing it. It is no wonder it’s a bit confusing.

Peter Terry  Retail is driven by change, so what we need is a supply base that is willing to change with it. We need flexibility and for people to see change as an opportunity not a barrier.

Eddie Gittoes All the retail end users have now signed up that they will work to get things harmonised. The idea of harmonising the short courses is that they are practical, safe and based on underpinning knowledge, so that the brighter one can go on to do the NVQ3  if they want to.

Just under 500 engineers have gone through a CO2 training course to date with different training providers, but there will probably be another 150 systems out there before the City and Guilds CO2 NVQ course is online. So that’s why we have concentrated on the practical short courses. It will then be a commercial decision for contractors as to how many engineers they send on the NVQ3 course.

Terry March My concern is with the smaller guys with the smaller systems. If they start thinking about converting systems to CO2, while the direct emissions are zero, the indirect will be higher as it is going to take more energy. So  while we can get some of this back by using heat reclaim, I am a bit concerned that this will cause an imbalance on the TEWI calculations.

Eddie Gittoes I think that the independent sector is more cost conscious and less exposed to public scrutiny - a lot of them are still running R22. They are running about three to five years behind the big guys, so I think by the time they are ready, the industry will have sorted itself out.

Ray Gluckman  There seems to be a measure of running before we can walk for the industry. It is certainly a step change in technology for everyone involved from engineers to designers to consultants, the whole fraternity, but we need to get some feedback from the installations we have, because we have got to find out if  we are getting a decent energy performance, otherwise we are going down the wrong street.

Eddie Gittoes But it all depends on the customer’s drivers doesn’t it?

Ray Gluckman  From all my conversations I thought that that was energy efficiency

Peter Terry  We have to ask what is the right pace though, because it goes wider than just refrigeration – if we go say 50 per cent slower, then that is then dictating how fast Waitrose grows as a business. I accept all you are saying, but who dictates what that right pace is?

Ray Gluckman  From what we have heard, it is touch and go on indirect emissions on a like for like basis and of course there is a big direct emissions benefit, but we haven’t yet had field results. Now what we are hearing is that some of the installations that have been put in are leaking badly because they have been put in quickly and that is causing a shortage of CO2 as a result.

Barry Lyons  There is plenty of CO2, there’s just no cylinders to put them in……

Kevin Glass  The challenge of CO2 is that if you do anything silly, it is not leakage, it is the whole of the charge you lose. It is not a question of topping up a leak.

Ray Gluckman  Do we have any reliable data on the 40 or 50 systems that are operating out there?

Barry Lyons  It is trickling through, but we may be going down the wrong route with transcritical because it is not as efficient as it should be, and it costs more to run it transcritically especially in the UK where it is only two weeks of the year.

Judith Evans  The last data I saw from Kenneth Madsen a few years ago was that it was pretty neutral for energy efficiency in the UK.


But does a small difference in energy really matter in the scheme of things anyway?

Eddie Gittoes When you think about it pragmatically there are three main criteria: return on investment, energy and environmental impact and different retailers will interpret it differently. Let’s not kid ourselves that we have ever put in the most efficient systems anyway, so the argument is a bit academic.

I know of at least one retailer who believes he has got his leakage down to one or two per cent, and now he is thinking the unthinkable and saying, ‘Based  on TEWI, I can stick with what I’ve got.’

But the risk with that is the threat of legislation, that HFCs will get carbon-taxed. But then if it isn’t leaking, he won’t have to buy more and have tax to pay anyway….

We sat down as an industry a few years ago and had the option to tackle leakage, but we chose not to. It is only recently that we have had Real Zero and in the interim, clients have said ‘well if you are not going to solve leakage, then we will do it our way with new technology.”

Peter Terry  The other side to it is the growth rate of your business and how it impacts on your carbon footprints.


The Carbon Reduction Commitment is going to cost retailers a lot of money in tax now. Pure CO2 output is going to be a major driver isn’t it?

Ray Gluckman  CRC is only based on energy at present. If you take a typical supermarket, the emissions are 60 per cent energy and 40 per cent refrigerant. In TEWI terms, if your carbon dioxide system for instance was four or five per cent higher in energy consumption, then you can justify it because your direct emissions would be down to zero – even though you wouldn’t want to be higher in energy in running cost terms…

Now personally I would rather the government chose to tax carbon in energy than in refrigerant emissions. Even if you chose the currently rather small level of £12 per tonne of CO2, a GWP weighted tax on refrigerant will be about £70 on R404A, then suddenly you have a driver towards those interim solutions like R407A or R407F.

Steve Gill If we get containment right, surely these problems become less important

Nick Rivers  I think we are kidding ourselves if we say that systems wont leak at all. The problems that occurred with Tesco will happen with new technology. You just have to look at Toyota.

We as a company put our first CO2 system in in March and now we have put in 35 or so.  It has been a learning curve, but in the nine months we have been back and adapted and so the product coming out  now is better too.  So is the industry ready for CO2, yes, because we are working with it. Is it able to respond to major catastrophic loss, yes, but does it know where and when they will happen next, no, because we haven’t been working with the gas long enough to know.

Kevin Glass  Just to take the point of view of Bitzer, they think the UK supermarkets are a bit mad, for going headlong into transcritical, when the majority of the European supermarkets, maybe erring on the side of caution are subcritical CO2 with R134a.

We have got compressors that can do everything that supermarkets want, the problem is with the systems often. And let’s not forget that the systems have only been running nine months, so there may be more issues coming to light when they have run for longer.


Of course, we should remember that there are other natural refrigerants. How do you view the development of hydrocarbons?

Les King  The difference is hydrocarbons are already used quite widely throughout the food industry and of course they have been in domestic refrigeration for seven years or more. There are far more engineers now who are familiar with hydrocarbons and if you make the systems simple and take out the mechanical elements as much as possible you’ve got containment as well.

Kevin Glass  And many of those systems are made in a factory environment which is much better quality than you can get on site.

Les King  Are we there yet with hydrocarbons? No, so there is very much a need for ACRIB to train engineers to take it to the next level. And we have got to learn how to design it better.

See RACplus.com next week for Part 3 of the

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