28 june 2023
Since the middle of last year when we started hearing about the F-Gas review, the price of HFCs has been going up and up. We all know about the difficult times the cooling sector is experiencing due to the current situation with coolant gases. The F-Gas review is now in a period of trialogue negotiations, with different proposals on the table, but one thing all parties seem to agree on is that quotas should be reduced, in other words, to accelerate the phase-down.
This will, without doubt, cause the price of coolant gases to keep rising (it has already done so considerably so far this year), and their availability will be much lower than it is now, dropping from the current 80m TCO2 equivalent to 40m in 2024, and 20m in 2027.
It is evident that in new builds the solution is to choose coolant gases with a low PCA such as CO2, NH3, R290, or the group of coolants A2L, but we must remember that the biggest challenge lies in the equipment already installed.
With approximately 23,500 supermarkets in Spain, of which 80-90% still work with HFCs, and where many of these installations have barely reached the mid-point of their operational life (meaning that for many of them their costs have not yet been recouped), it is clear that there is not enough time, money, materials or labour to remodel all of these shops within the timeframes on the table with the new F-Gas.
Remember that, in addition, these operations require complex and costly remodelling projects or changes to the refrigeration installations, which entails closing stores for approximately two months, with the resulting loss of sales and, in some cases, customers.
And if this situation was not yet challenging enough, the new IGFEI (Spanish fluorinated greenhouse gas tax) means this is charged at the moment the gas is acquired, and not when it is used, moving away from the spirit of “those that pollute pay”, to “everybody pays”. This fact is grossly affecting maintenance companies that must keep a safety stock in their warehouses to provide service for coolant gas leaks their customers may have, making this stock much more punitive on an accounting level now than it was a year ago.
With this uncertain scenario of storms in the horizon, doubling down our efforts in preventive maintenance and reducing gas leaks has gone from being recommended practice to essential for survival and to ensure the activity of the sector.
Keeping coolant gas inside the installation, preventing the loss of this valuable component, key to the correct functioning of the installation and the business development of all sectors that depend on cooling for their activity, must become the highest priority for both owners and maintenance companies.
We must note that the importance of keeping the coolant gas inside the installation does not lie solely in the value of this gas, but also in the energy efficiency of the system. A cold store operating with 80% of its coolant gas (leak rate of 20%) is consuming 15% more energy, in addition to shortening the operational life of the elements of the installation due to the extra effort needed to reach the setpoint temperatures.
If what we want is to reduce coolant gas leaks to zero, or almost zero, we can use periodical manual sweeps, or the installation of detection systems aimed at personal safety in compliance with EN-378, although the latter are compulsory and will avoid a costly fine in the event of industrial inspections.
It is only possible to reduce coolant gas leaks by combining detection systems with highly accurate, precise and reliable sensor systems, continuous monitoring of the installation’s status with advanced indicators that help quickly detect and find the leaks in their initial stages, and the expertise of the maintenance professionals repairing these leaks quickly and effectively.
Our AKOGAS NDIR System, for the early detection of coolant gases, is able to quickly detect leaks smaller than 0.3 g/h, with absolute precision and zero false alarms, even in environments traditionally adverse to leak detection, such as cold stores for vegetables, fish, bread fermentation, humid environments, etc. Speed when detecting leaks in their earliest stages directly affects the maintenance and operational costs of the cold store:
This continuous leak monitoring system provides useful information for predictive maintenance and the precise and effective location of these leaks, indicating where and when the leak will occur, which greatly reduces its repair time.
Its system of alarms and remote monitoring not only alerts to gas leaks in the installation, but also allows them to be classified by their degree of severity, making it possible to ensure the repair of all the leaks in an establishment in one visit, while scrupulously fulfilling the current regulations and legislation on safety regarding coolant gas leaks.
Finally, it should be pointed out that this system has been designed so that its implementation and commissioning have zero effect on the economic activity and operation of the cold store. It is not necessary to close the store or stop activity at any time, and the return on investment is ideal, as we’re talking about months in the vast majority of the cases, with results that leave no doubt about their effectiveness, reducing leaks by between 80% and 95% in the hundreds of facilities that have already been benefitting from this system for years.
This solution is the result of intense R&D+i work by AKO throughout our more than 40 years of experience in the cooling sector. As a large team of professionals, we are at your service to advise and guide you in the implementation of the AKOGAS System for the early detection of coolant gases.
Ask us how.
Autor: José María Cabria
Business Development Food Retail Iberia