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When is ‘enough’ enough?

Secretary Miriam Rodway looks at the work going on with the F-Gas in the light of a proposed review. How the industry uses HFCs is under scrutiny from those with an interest in carbon targets

In January, Richard Benyon, parliamentary undersecretary for natural environment, water and rural affairs, summed up the government’s praise for the efforts the industry has made in complying with the F-Gas Regulations: “In the UK, we are proud of the efforts businesses have made to implement the existing regulations.

Since 2006, engineers in all five industry sectors covered by the regulations have undertaken upgraded training and certification programmes that meet the European Commission’s minimum requirements.

“The largest F-Gas using sector includes more than 27,000 refrigeration and air-conditioning engineers, who install, maintain and repair systems that contain F-Gases. Many of our supermarkets are leading the way in reducing F-Gas emissions through minimising leaks and introducing alternative technologies. Consequently, under the current regulations, by 2030 we are projecting reductions in UK F-Gas emissions to half of what they are today.”

However, Mr Benyon concluded that even these efforts would not be enough. “That falls short of the 72-73 per cent reduction for non-carbon dioxide emissions required by the low-carbon economy roadmap.”

Importance of evidence

It shows that how we use HFCs is under scrutiny from those with an interest in carbon targets. The recent proposed amendments to the F-Gas Regulations currently under debate include not just a phase-down of supply of certain refrigerants, but also a series of suggested bans related to service, maintenance and in some cases installation of certain equipment.

The institute is cautious about responding directly to such proposals where there is little practical evidence of how effective such a ban might be.

However, the findings from the IOR’s Real Zero investigations and experience do offer some thought-provoking insights into the issue of reducing direct emissions of refrigerant (see the website for the history and free downloads at www.realzero.org.uk).

The Institute of Refrigeration exists to promote the advancement of science and practice of refrigeration for the public benefit, and minimising environmental impact where we can is an extension of this. It seeks to achieve this by promoting best practice in refrigeration engineering. Real Zero began as a way of bringing together the different sectors of the industry to identify the most effective measures to prevent and reduce the emissions of refrigerant. These practices are increasingly important regardless of the GWP value of the refrigerant. Containment is essential for improving indirect emissions through energy consumption as well as direct emissions through leakage, but also to maximise reliability and minimise system failure. 

As a general principle, the institute encourages the strengthening of the regulatory framework where it emphasises good engineering practice and the application of existing industry safety standards and codes of practice.

Exceeding the minimum

However, legislation of this type tends to be based on minimum standards of compliance. While this can be a good starting point, practical initiatives such as Real Zero and how this has been applied by equipment operators have shown the benefits of going further.

A key example is the issue of leak checking. The Real Zero data and subsequent evidence provided by retailers in the UK point to the fact that simply increasing the frequency of leak checks has a substantial impact on emissions reduction.

Real Zero evaluated the leakage records of a range of plant over a period of three years. Based on this data and subsequent information from those who have applied the Real Zero principles, it would now be recommended that smaller systems (from 5 tonnes to 50 tonnes CO2 equivalent) would benefit from a thorough manual leak check and repair procedure at least every six months and larger systems at least once a month.

But leak checking, repair and recording is not enough on its own. It is equally important that this information is monitored and evaluated and that management practices are adapted. Working closely together, the end users, contractors and consultants can achieve significant and lasting reductions in refrigerant use, which more than save the cost of a technician carrying out the additional leak checking work.

This message was driven home at a meeting with the Defra Global Atmosphere division in March. IOR president-elect Prof Graeme Maidment and representatives of the Real Zero project shared the information about the Real Zero findings and urged the department for greater acknowledgement of the achievements of UK industry. The team also emphasised that with additional government support there was potential for even greater impact in future.

As the industry moves forward into the use of new refrigerants, and the adoption of alternative refrigerants becomes more widespread, the knowledge gained on how to reduce direct emissions must be applied across the whole suite of refrigerants.

As direct emissions of refrigerant come under control, the impact of indirect emission – ie energy used during the operation of the system – will gain in importance and the opportunity to work towards ‘Real Zero refrigerant’ will continue.

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