Call for new culture of improved refrigerant containment and recycling

The industry needs to embrace a new era of working where the refrigerant it uses is more highly prized if it is to meet the demands of reducing HFC quotas and dwindling refrigerant stocks.

This was one of the key messages of F-Gas Question Time, which took place just before RAC went to press. This new culture will mean contractors and end-users need to work together on intensified efforts to contain refrigerant leaks, while at the same time finding ways to recycle and reclaim higher volumes than it is currently doing.

Mark Woods, managing director of contractor Space Engineering told delegates: “We need to ‘make every kilo of refrigerant a prisoner’ and to work harder on containment than we ever have” particularly as the refrigerant in current systems becomes progressively scarcer and more costly.

Adrian Crowther, Co-operative Group’s technical standards and design manager, agreed that an industry effort was needed to improve containment: “I think it is fair to say that we all bear an element of responsibility. Historically, end-users haven’t been all that good at containment and, in addition, an awful lot of companies haven’t put the investment in, so now there is quite a lot of ageing equipment. But there is also an element of culpability on the part of installers who have not always installed to the best integrity.”

He added that the current state of leakage in refrigeration estates could be larger than thought. “I think accurate recording of leakage is an area that needs improvement. I think this could be masking the true extent of leakage.”

Keynote speaker consultant Ray Gluckman also emphasised containment. He said: “If we can reduce leakage in commercial refrigeration, it will reduce demand in one of the bigger parts of the market.”

At the same time, speakers agreed that more effort must be focused on reclaiming refrigerant, which should be a key part of the industry’s approach to the HFC phase down, particularly as the quota system heads for another major drop in volume in 2021.

Daikin legal specialist Graham Wright (pictured) called for new partnerships to be forged, to offset what he said was a major problem of refrigerant wasted after it comes out of systems. Mr Wright cited Daikin research that suggested around 65 per cent of the annual volume of R410A used in service and maintenance is wasted.

Mr Wright said: “The message should be ‘reclaim at all cost’. We just can’t afford to be wasting that volume anymore.”

He said that aside from refrigerant recovered from systems, the firm’s research had discovered huge wastage at the end of life of AC systems, when the units go to waste processors – with little or none of the system refrigerant returned for use. He said: “That refrigerant has disappeared and we can’t get it back.”

He called for partnerships with industry to improve the situation. He said: “We want to work with partners, but we also need to put pressure on our installers not to let the refrigerant go. This, I believe is a wake-up call.”

Mr Gluckman agreed noting: “It is a very important point – we need reclaimed refrigerant if we are to survive the cut in quota in my opinion…There is now a major financial driver to support reclaim. If refrigerant costs £100/kg to buy, but a much lower amount to reprocess, the logic needs no further explanation.”

All the Question Time speakers were of a consensus that the industry must make plans to move to lower GWP refrigerant, given that there is a service ban on higher GWP refrigerant in larger systems coming in 2020, and then a large cut in HFC quota in 2021.

Chemours marketing manager Janet Ludert said “2021 will see a real squeeze so it is important to be forward-looking, to plan ahead, but to act now… Procrastination is our enemy.”

Patrick Amrhein, Honeywell’s marketing director for fluoro-products said it should be economically beneficial to move to lower-GWP sooner rather than later, given that the historical precedent of CFC phase out had seen refrigerant prices go up significantly as stocks ran down. He said: “You should invest now, to save the risk of having to invest more later.”

However, there was a degree of optimism offered for the industry too. Consultant Steve Gill said: “I am extremely optimistic – this industry has proven over the years that it is very robust and very adaptable to the changing circumstances.”

Paul Alway, formerly of Marks and Spencer and now with consultant AB Group had a similar perspective. He said: “The [equipment] technology does need to catch up with the refrigerants and there is still a lot of confusion but we are certainly heading in the right direction. GWPs are getting lower and there are lots of options becoming available [in refrigeration.]