F-gases have been in the spotlight since the late 80’s thanks to their environmentally damaging characteristics. They have numerous applications but one of their more well-known uses is in cooling and chilling equipment.
High capacity water cooled chillers still make up the majority of the cooling systems that service high requirement buildings nationwide and they use Fluorinated Gases (F-gases) in the cooling process.This page includes a complete explanation of F-gases within the process cooling sphere. Skip to:
What Are F-gases?
F-gases are man-made gases that can stay in the earth’s atmosphere for centuries and increase the speed and intensity with which the greenhouse effect is impacting the globe. They were created in the early 1990s as alternatives to substances such as chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons
Hydrofluorocarbons are the most common of the F-gases and have many applications including commercial and industrial refrigeration and air conditioning systems.
As it has been discovered that F-gases deplete the ozone layer the Montreal Protocol was created to lay out guidelines and provisions for their eventual global phase out.
How Do Chillers and Air Conditioners Use F-gases?
Chillers and Air Conditioners use F-gases when cooling the water or air that passes through them during the refrigeration cycle. The cycle begins with a cool, low pressure mixture of liquid and vapour refrigerant entering the chiller evaporator. Once the liquid is inside the chiller evaporator it absorbs the heat from the fluid that the chiller is there to cool. The heat transfer sets the liquid refrigerant boiling and the super-heated vapour travels into the chillers compressor.
The compressor then compresses the refrigerant to a high pressure, and temperature, which in turn makes the chillers condenser release its heat into the cooler ambient air. This heat transfer causes the refrigerant to then cool and condense back into a liquid before cooling further and then leaving the condenser.
The still highly pressurised refrigerant then enters the chiller expansion valve and causes a pressure drop across the refrigerant circuit. This drop in pressure causes a small amount of refrigerant boil off or ‘flash.’ This boiling off helps return the rest of the refrigerant to the correct temperature before it is returned to the chiller evaporator to restart the process.
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer entered into force on January 1st 1989. With 197 ratifiers it is the first universally ratified treaty in United Nations history and has been championed as an example of fantastic international cooperation. If the agreement is followed through it is thought the ozone layer will recover fully by 2050.
Under the protocol all participating countries agreed that by 2013 the growth in the production and consumption of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) will be halted. Further to this, by 2015 the same signatories agree to begin reducing the consumption and production of HCFCs.
Within the EU F-gases are subject to regulation. Regulation (EC) No 842/2006 was put in place to help the EU meet their Montreal Protocol obligations. A summary of key responsibilities that must be met by companies using stationary refrigeration and air conditioning are as follows:
- Leak Checks* – Regular checks for leakage and use of automatic leak detection on large (over 300kg) systems. If a leak is detected and repaired a further check must be carried out within one month to ensure that the repair has been effective.
- Recovery – Proper refrigerant recovery during plant servicing, maintenance and at end of life.
- Records – Thorough records must be kept for equipment containing 3kg or more of F gases.
- Training and Certification – Use of personnel with appropriate qualifications. Company certification required for all companies employing personnel to undertake work on equipment containing or designed to contain F gases. Companies taking delivery of F gases need to employ personnel with appropriate qualifications if undertaking leak checking, gas recovery, plant installation, maintenance or servicing.
* leak checks must be carried out: at least once a year for systems containing over 3kg of refrigerant, at least twice a year for systems with more than 30kg but less than 300kg of refrigerant in any one circuit, at least four times a year for systems with more than 300kg in any one refrigeration circuit.
Additionally, if an organisation is still using HCFC refrigerants it must also comply with other regulations. A summary of key responsibilities that must be met by companies using HCFC refrigerants are as follows:
- Phase-Out – Phase-Out of HCFC usage between 2010 (virgin fluid) and 2015 (recycled/reclaimed fluid).
- Leak Checks – Annual leakage checks for equipment containing 3 kg or more of refrigerant.
- Recovery – Refrigerant recovery during plant servicing and maintenance at end of life.
- Records – Good records kept for equipment containing 3kg or more of an HCFC.
- Training – Use of personnel with prescribed qualifications.
Further to this the European Union has just (as of March 2014) adopted an agreement that was struck in December to phase-out the use of HFCs. The European Parliament voted 644 in favour of the new regulations that will help shift the EU to more environmentally friendly alternatives. The debate came to the fore after a review of the 2006 regulations that people felt did little to slow the consumption of the environmentally damaging chemicals.
The new regulations will cap the number of HFCs that can be placed on the European market, reducing the amount to 21% by 2030. As well as the cap and gradual phase-out the EU has also agreed to ban the use of HFCs in multiple sectors, including commercial refrigeration, by 2022. Additionally, from 2020, high global warming potential HFCs will not be used to service or maintain refrigeration equipment.
For more information on EU F-gas regulations you can view the gov.uk site here.
F-gas Regulation Enforcement and Compliance
The Environment Agency Chemical Compliance Team are responsible for enforcing and monitoring compliance to European Union F-gas regulations. They will use various methods to monitor and enforce compliance including, but not limited to, raising awareness and using risk-based targeting to ensure companies are operating within the law. If you encounter an instance of non-compliance and wish to report it you can contact the Environment Agency here.
It is clear that F-gases are environmentally damaging chemicals and that their use should be restricted and reduced over a manageable time period. Within the EU, and globally, countries are pushing towards realistic and practicable aims that will eventually lead to F-gases disappearing from use and the ozone layer returning to its previous and correct condition.
As a company, or individual, you can do your part by complying with all regulations and ensuring your equipment is operating safely and efficiently. We will constantly be updating this section with any new F-gas regulations as and when they come into force so be sure to check back for more information and explanations.
F-Gas Regulation Key Dates (Infographic via FridgeHub)
This handy infographic from FridgeHub nicely outlines the key dates you need to be aware of when it comes to F-gas regulation. Click the image to enlarge it.
Written by Ryan Hill