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RAC seminars: hot topics in cooling

Delegates to RAC’s show seminars were given a rough guide to the hot industry topics, ranging from R22 phase out through to F-Gas and energy performance certificates. Andrew Gaved reports

The RAC09 seminar programme was opened by Enviros boss Ray Gluckman, who can claim to be one of the few in the industry to have the ear of government. He warned delegates that Defra was likely to tighten up the rules on reclaimed and recycled R22, in a bid to prevent illegal trade in the gas after December this year.

An amendment in the Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) rules is likely to see ‘recycled’  R22 which has only had basic filtration applied, only being allowed to be reused on the same site that it was recovered from.

Mr Gluckman also warned that Defra was seeking to harmonise the ODS regulations with the F-Gas regulations, so that those still intending to use R22 after the virgin gas is banned on December 31 would have to undergo a leak testing and recording regime, similar to that for F-Gas.

But the real debate centred on  the availability of virgin R22 as suppliers start winding down their stocks. John Davey of distributor Harp said: “I am startled by the number of companies who don’t have an R22 exit plan. Please don’t think that you will be able to cheat with R22, because we know where our canisters are and we will be asking for them back.”

The prospect of policing was also underlined by Mr Gluckman, who revealed that local trading standards officers had been attending training courses in enforcement of the ODS regulations.


The consensus among the speakers on the F-Gas day was that there were still several elements of the legislation that were being established. Prime amongst this is the need to certify all companies that are handling F-Gases or are installing or maintaining F-Gas systems, with the mandatory Refcom register by July this year.

Refcom’s Steve Crocker emphasised the need for all companies to register on its database for an interim certificate in order to be compliant. For the interim certificate, costing around £100, firms need to provide business details, along with evidence of their workers’ F-Gas qualifications.

However, for the full certificate, which will become available after July 2011, firms will need to provide additional evidence of appropriate procedures, and 3 per cent of those on the register will be subject to a random audit. This certificate will cost around £150, and has to be renewed every three years.

John Ellis reminded delegates that it will be impossible to work without the F-Gas qualification after July 2011 – only two years away. One of the benefits of qualifying, he noted, was that it should enable engineers to work throughout Europe.

Given that to qualify, engineers need to take a practical two and a half hour assessment and a test of underpinning knowledge of areas such as superheat, subcooling and pressure enthalpy, Mr Ellis said he expected most would need a three-day or five-day training course. He said: “If engineers do think they know it all already, they are welcome to contact us for just the assessment.” He added that no-one had yet taken him up on that option.

Ray Gluckman reiterated his previous message about enforcement for those working with the F-Gas regime. He said: “During the next year, there will be an increasing frequency of visits from local authority inspectors. It shouldn’t be a surprise as the legislation has been an obligation for 12 months – so this means that every single piece of kit with a charge over 3kg should already have had at least one leak test. “

He warned that the will was there to see strict enforcement. “Sites that are found wanting will certainly be revisited and if the problems have not been put right, they will be prosecuted.”

Star Refrigeration’s David Blackhurst and IOR president Jane Gartshore talked delegates through the results of the IOR’s Real Zero survey of leaks on sites around the country. Mr Blackhurst said that the average leak rate on supermarkets was a high 20-30 per cent on average, whereas industrial sites were 15-20 per cent and air conditioning installations 15-20 per cent.

He said among the practical considerations in reducing leaks through design were: choice of materials; minimising joints and seals; using jointing methods that don’t rely on brazing; minimising the refrigerant charge, evacuating and charging the system correctly and installing fixed leak detection systems.

He added that other routes to reduction include: providing good access to pipes for contractors; paying attention the joints, valves and caps; reducing vibration and stress from the system and pipework; specifying a service and maintenance regime; and specifying the qualification standards of the installer.

Jane Gartshore added that Schrader valves were often a leak point, and recommended flares should be tightened with a torque wrench to the correct torque.

Ms Gartshore added that not only was it often difficult to find an accurate record of the system charge; some of the information that was recorded was questionable. Shockingly, she reported that some sites leaked more than 100 per cent of their charge over the course of a year, while half of all the sites surveyed had too little gas in their systems.

She also cautioned that leak detectors needed a regular accuracy check using a reference leak: “The sensors only last 100 hours so need checking – on the survey we found that some hadn’t even been fitted to the detectors.”

Carbon Dioxide

Star Refrigeration’s Andy Pearson got delegates thinking about the possibilities that natural refrigerants could offer – prescient thinking given that the supermarket debate would be centred on stepping up development of such options. “Carbon dioxide is quite exceptional in that it can be used in applications right across the board from domestic heat pumps through to IT cooling and blade freezers.”

Furthermore, he said, while CO2 was never a drop-in, it offered unusual alternatives to the installer or designer. It is not only sustainable, freely available and future-proof, he said, all its ‘problems’ were really ‘opportunities’ such as its high operating pressure, which once accommodated delivers lots of advantages. “It also allows you to do new things, like integrate it with hot water.”

Epta’s John Austin-Davies continued the carbon dioxide theme, saying that the industry needed to develop along with the technology. He named three priorities for this development: training; both in safety systems and in charging and handling; information, which needs to be clear and precise, for all the industry; and supply chain, to ensure that the supply infrastructure is able to meet the demands of the customers.

This supply chain development was echoed by Bitzer’s Kevin Glass, who noted that although carbon dioxide’s discharge pressure of 150 bar was extremely high compared to other refrigerants, there is plenty of experience in other industries. He said: “The hydraulics industry is used to dealing with pressures in the thousands of bar.”

Mr Glass also cautioned that “whatever CO2 does, it does it fast” so capacity control is important. He added that while the safety requirements of CO2 in supermarket and industrial systems were reasonable, more attention needs to be given to training for the maintenance requirements, since many of the installations were only recently commissioned.

Energy Performance Certificates

Graeme Fox representing the HVCA said that the EPCs represented a potential opportunity for contractors, combining EPC air conditioning inspections with scheduled F-Gas visits. “A great deal of both F-Gas and EPCs cover the same territory. Some current inspectors have no practical experience of rac systems, but engineers will know the best systems that are available. Becoming an inspector will enable you to advise clients on how to save money, which is good for client relations, and will be a chance to get a foot in the door with generating work for installations.”

Mr Fox also railed against the government’s current policies on HFCs. “Legislators need to stop taking advice from lobby groups with their own agenda and listen to the industry, who can give proper technical advice.”

Power Crunch

The British Refrigeration Association’s Mike Lawrence gave delegates a range of ways to improve energy efficiency in their systems, ranging from cleaning the evaporators and condensers to setting the suction pressure as high as possible. One of the key areas, he said, was the defrost setting on freezers: “Considerably more than half the energy in defrost is used on heating the fixture rather than melting the ice. Timed defrosts more defrosting than necessary, so owners should consider a “defrost on demand’ system.”

Supermarket Debate

Speakers from three major supermarkets – Asda, Morrisons and East Midlands Co-op – detailed how they had developed their sites to take account of new technology. Morrisons’ Paul Hooper revealed that it had cut its carbon footprint by 36 per cent to 1.27 million tonnes in four years, following a thorough review of its estate. Some 130,00 tonnes of that reduction was due to its improvement in refrigerant leakage.

Mr Hooper said that among the new technologies the firm was looking at were heat recovery units, CHP plant, destratification fans and even fuel cells, to burn waste. Significantly, Morrisons has also committed to CHP, CO2-cascaded plant and hydrocarbon integral units on all new builds and major refits. The store remains the only supermarket to achieve Carbon Trust standard, he noted.

Paul Garton, newly appointed energy efficiency manager of East Midlands Co-op detailed how the firm was on target to achieve a 20 per cent energy saving on its existing refrigeration stock through proprietary technology such as full and half glass doors, Everclear film and trim heater pulsing, while trials on LED lighting had shown a 60 per cent potential saving. With refrigeration accounting for £5.7 million in energy costs annually, or 60 per cent, this is a significant saving, he said.

Mr Garton said that he was developing the use of natural refrigerants, with a plan to standardise on hydrocarbon integrals by 2010 and a CO2/hydrocarbon plant in development. However, he said a real priority was improved monitoring, and he was installing remote monitoring of integrals as well as developing advanced reporting and pre-emptive fault alarms. Refrigerant use had also been cut by 20 per cent to 3,789 kg per year.

Asda’s Brian Churchyard outlined the retailer’s commitment to reduce energy by 30 per cent in new stores, to match its 20 per cent cut in CO2 and 30 per cent cut in refrigerant use across the estate, even though this has itself grown by 15 per cent.

He said that innovations included a proactive maintenance regime, as well as trials of full glass doors, hydrocarbon chillers and full heat reclaim at the new Maidenhead store.

Mr Churchyard said that the firm would continue to evaluate on a cascading number of stores before rolling out across the estate.

But he finished by calling on rac suppliers to keep pace with the developing demands of the retailers. He said: “The challenge is to bring solutions to the UK base, so that we don’t have to go outside. You need to think big and value does not mean cheap. We are not looking for the lowest price. If you don’t start embracing new alternatives you will be left behind when our evaluation period is over.”