There are few catering or food businesses out there that could afford for their refrigeration equipment to stop working without any possibility of it getting fixed.
While it might sound like the ultimate nightmare scenario, forthcoming legislative changes affecting industrial and large-scale refrigeration equipment mean it could become a reality for some businesses.
The use of virgin R22 gas is already prohibited and the use of recycled and reclaimed gas will be prohibited after 31st December 2014. Studies have shown that R22 refrigerants have a detrimental effect on the ozone layer, resulting in excessive UV levels, so by the time the end of next year comes around any that remain in existence will be in breach of the law.
Glasgow-based ACE Refrigeration, which has been specialising in cold rooms and chilled production facilities for more than 60 years, has been eagerly reminding its customers that if they don’t have a plan for their R22 gas replacement, they are taking a risk.
“With gas suppliers already running down stocks of the recycled and reclaimed R22 gas in anticipation of the deadline, its scarcity and price are already having an impact,” warns the company’s installation director David Allan. “Earlier this year, the Guardia Civil arrested and charged 97 people allegedly involved in the illegal trade in more than 150 tonnes of R22 refrigerant in Spain. Thankfully, there is little need for such drastic action here.”
Allan says that there are ultimately two main options available to customers, large or small, dependent on the age and state of their equipment.
The first of these, particularly if the equipment has been well-maintained and isn’t too old, involves decanting the R22 from an existing system and safely disposing of the refrigerant. The system can then be converted to make it compatible with a replacement refrigerant that is safe to use.
While this offers businesses a reduced capital outlay compared to all-out replacement, Allan points out that the downside to this is that no replacement refrigerants offer an exact match to the thermal properties of R22, which could result in reduced capacity or efficiency. The second option, therefore, is to replace the R22 equipment with a new system which is compatible with modern refrigerants.
The obvious benefits of this include a significant reduction in energy consumption from the use of modern equipment, as well as reduced maintenance costs and an increased service life over a refrigerant conversion.
While going down this route commands a larger outlay of capital initially, replacing tired and inefficient equipment can have a major benefit on a company’s bottom line.
“Some of our recent installations have had a payback period of less than two years based on the energy savings received,” comments Allan. “There are some customers that have saved up to 25% off their energy bills. And with energy costs on the rise, this is the ideal time to take action.”
Allan does point out that in the last 10 years few refrigeration companies would have installed R22 equipment, as even before the new legislation was announced it was widely recognised that changes were likely. However, for equipment installed 10 or more years ago, R22 has been the predominant refrigerant used, he says.
One of ACE’s biggest R22 gas success stories is the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh, where it was responsible for the refurbishment and upgrade of the main kitchen. ACE needed to replace 25-year-old plant running on R22 gas in a live kitchen environment, while also designing enough capacity for future expansion. In addition, it also had to find ways of reducing the energy consumption of the hotel’s refrigeration equipment.
ACE designed and built the refrigeration in the new banqueting kitchen with an energy-saving design and management control systems at its core. The new refrigeration element contains nine walk-in chills, two walk-in freezers, one blast chill and chilled displays as well as chilled preparation areas, including the specialist banquet preparation area.
ACE replaced a series of 11 condensing units in these rooms with two purpose-built compressor packs — one low temperature and one medium temperature — that are forecast to save the property more than £3,500 in energy costs. The design ensured the maximum possible reduction was achieved using inverter controlled packs, electronic valves versus mechanical valves, and proportional control logic. In addition to the new condensing units, the controller also manages the existing integral refrigerated cabinets, giving the head chef full control at his finger tips.
ACE has been able to help secure substantial grant funding for the replacement and renewal of outdated plant for some of its customers in the UK. Allan admits the key for any client, however, is to consider the capital and operational costs of each option before making a final decision.
With the R22 refrigerant deadline getting closer by the day, ACE’s focus will be on ensuring that any clients which have turned a blind eye to the issue finally sit up and take notice.
Legislation spells end of controversial refrigerant
The ban on the use of virgin HCFC gases represents a very real business threat to any company which uses R22 in their refrigeration processes or air conditioning systems.
R22 remains one of the most commonly used refrigerants in the UK, so sectors at greatest risk include the food and drink industry, petro-chemicals, pharmaceuticals, health, retail, hospitality, finance and data-processing. Typical applications can vary widely, but examples include refrigeration systems in supermarkets, blast chillers, cold stores and process coolers.
From 1st January 2010, it was made illegal to use virgin HCFCs to service refrigeration and air conditioning equipment (RAC). From 1st January 2015 it will be illegal to use any HCFCs to service RAC equipment, so recycled or reclaimed HCFC can no longer be used.
Replacement is likely to be the most expensive option in up-front cost terms — as much as 10 times that of conversion, according to industry estimates.
For many types of RAC system, which are in good order, it will be possible to implement a conversion solution.