Practising containment

Despite concerns that the high system pressures associated with R410A might pose installation problems, Phil Curtis of HVAC contractor MacWhirter found it surprisingly straightforward when a Carrier system was used to refurbish the Butten Building at Sunbridge Park Management Centre. He says that connections took only seconds longer than for lower-pressure refrigerants.
With the threat of a ban on the use of HFCs for stationary air-conditioning equipment having been lifted, responsibility is placed on the industry to prevent leaks, says Andrew Keogh.At the end of March the European Parliament gave its first-reading opinion on the ‘Draft regulation on fluorinated gases’, the so called ‘F-gas directive’. Since publication of the original draft last year, over a hundred amendments have been tabled, many seeking to switch the essence of the directive from a policy of containment to one of restrictions on the use of fluorinated gases. Two of the proposed changes could have had particularly significant and deleterious effects on the air-conditioning industry throughout Europe. The first sought to expand the list of products in which the use of HFCs would be banned to include some types of stationary air conditioning, as well as vehicle air conditioning. The second sought to include the EU treaty’s environmental articles in the legal framework of the directive, rather than using only the single-market articles. This would have opened the way for individual EU governments to impose tougher controls unilaterally — for example the HFC product bans introduced by Austria and Denmark. Fortunately, following intensive lobbying by individuals, companies and trade associations across Europe, the European Parliament gave its support to the original containment based proposals for controlling HFC emissions. No one would deny that we must take all economically practical steps to minimise the environmental impact of the refrigerants we rely on, so what are these proposals and how can the industry ensure that they are successful in reducing emissions? Leakage inspections Experience shows that carrying out regular checks for leakage is one of the most effective ways of reducing emissions from equipment. The requirement for stationary refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat-pump equipment is for at least one leakage inspection a year to be carried out by competent personnel, but the frequency of inspections varies depending on the quantity of fluorinated gas contained in the equipment. • 3 kg or more , once a year • 30 kg or more, four times a year • 300 kg, monthly This basic requirement is likely to be strengthened with a system of punishments for the owners of leaky systems and rewards for those who achieve low leakage rates. Since it is the owner of the system who will be liable, refrigerant charge, inspection costs and the likelihood of leaks occurring will become important factors in the selection of air-conditioning systems. Maintenance of records There is a requirement for all owners of stationary refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat-pump equipment containing 3 kg or more of fluorinated gas to maintain records. These should include information on the quantity and type of fluorinated gas installed and on amounts added and recovered during servicing. This information must be kept available and can be requested by either the relevant competent authority or the European Commission. These data should be used by regulatory bodies to target enforcement action for maximum effect. The industry as a whole should wholeheartedly endorse the collection and publication of such data because it is essential to our interests to demonstrate that containment works. Training and certification programmes Member States will be required to establish programmes to provide for the training and certification of personnel involved in making inspections for leakage, and for those involved in the recovery, recycling, reclamation and destruction of fluorinated gases. At present, there is no minimum standard set for the training required. As this training has to be consistent across the EU, it should be incorporated into the directive. The Dutch STEK scheme may be used as the basis for standardisation, and the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Industry Board in the UK already has a proposal for such a scheme. Following the European Parliament vote, the focus now turns to the Council of Ministers, where the EU Member States will debate the draft regulation. Officially, they will take the position of the European Parliament and the advice of the European Commission into account. The council is aiming to come to an initial decision at ministerial level, known as a Common Position, by the end of 2004. The industry must now try to influence this debate through national associations such as the Federation of Environmental Trade Associations to ensure that the good work achieved so far is not undone. It should be remembered that other legislation aimed at improving energy efficiency, such as the ‘Energy labelling directive’ and the ‘Energy efficiency of buildings directive’, will have much more profound effects on global warming through reductions in electricity consumption. Reputable and responsible manufacturers will continue to develop more efficient products to meet these regulatory requirements. However, doubt over the future of HFCs does nothing to encourage people to invest in the long term through higher-efficiency units. Containment is the key to the responsible usage of all refrigerants. Ammonia does not poison people unless it leaks. Hydrocarbons are not explosive unless they leak. And HFCs will not contribute directly to global warming unless they leak. Andrew Keogh is with Toshiba Carrier UK, United Technologies House, Guildford Road, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 9UT.
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