Attempts to limit EU emissions of fluorinated gases (F-gases) has prompted the EU Commission to propose a series of regulations, which is expected to be endorsed by the European Parliament in mid-2006; these are expected to be implemented in 2007. The F-gases are fluorinated synthetic compounds, and one of six greenhouse gases that the EU has committed to reduce by 8 per cent. This reduction is based upon the monitored levels from 1990 and must be achieved by 2012, as defined by the Kyoto Protocol.
The current F-gases - HFC134a, 407C and 410A - cause 1,300-1,800 times more global warming than an equivalent mass of CO2. and, as these compounds are used in everything from aerosol cans to air conditioning systems, are becoming increasingly prevalent as they continue to replace the harmful, banned CFCs and HCFCs, which have serious potential to deplete the ozone layer.
The major implication for these gases is venting as it is only when they escape into the atmosphere that they become harmful; therefore one of the key drivers to dealing with F-gases is the area of containment. This will involve changes to how equipment is maintained, installed and how gas is stored. The industry will need to ensure that all equipment utilised in the maintenance, decant and testing of F-gas systems is completely foolproof. Installation and servicing personnel must be trained in all handling and service procedures, and F-gases must have full traceability through their life.
The key objective of the new F-gas regulations is to prevent leakage and to ensure that any remedial work is undertaken immediately after a leak or unplanned venting is detected. This places a high level of responsibility on end-users to adhere to the new legislation. This has also inferred a precedent in so far as the regulations will call for an increase in the service frequency and monitoring of any equipment, including air conditioning systems that contain over 3kg of F-gas within a single unit.
Building services engineers must, therefore, take the F-gas regulations into consideration immediately by designing and specifying cooling that will reduce the impact of the legislation on the end-user. It will be evermore important to not only specify smaller refrigerant volume systems but also to utilise maintenance organisations that have awareness of the new regulations, fully trained staff and also documented environmental procedures.
All signs point to the fact that the F-gas regulations will be policed thoroughly, with talk of the regulator being empowered to stop and inspect vans to check installers have refrigerant recovery units in situ and installation engineers have appropriate certification in safe handling of refrigerants.
Currently, however, not many end-users seem to realise that should they allow any air conditioning installation engineers on site without a certificate of competency, it is the end-user themselves, rather than the installation engineers, who will be held liable for a fine for breaking the F-gas regulations.
This does raise a range of negatives for the market - as the implementation of the regulations will hit not only the-end user but also the building services industry in the following areas:
- Increased capital cost of equipment due to enhanced design features;
- Increased maintenance cost due to higher service frequencies;
- Prevalence of smaller units being introduced to offer a workaround on the 3kg rule;
- Increased training costs for building services organisations;
- Increased audit and monitoring cost for the end user;
- Additional detection costs for embedded assets.
How will it work?The Regulations will divide systems into three capacity groups:
- Equipment containing 3kg+ of refrigerant will be fully inspected every 12 months;
- Equipment containing 30kg+ of refrigerant will be fully inspected every six months;
- Equipment containing 300kg of refrigerant will be fully inspected every three months.
It is obvious that the regulations will disadvantage end-users whose air conditioning systems contain over 3kg of refrigerant, since equipment with a lower charge will be subject to normal maintenance procedures.
Example scenarioStandard VRF installation, the average refrigerant charge circulating in pipework around the building, is likely to be between 12-45kg. In the event of a leak, the system would need to be closed down, raising the potential danger of all the refrigerant escaping into the atmosphere. Because of this, the regulations will require a schedule of mandatory servicing, which is likely to amount to a biannual check. This will include not only the main equipment but also the checking of leaks on all the pipework and joints.
The enhanced regime will mean higher maintenance costs and will result in increased lifecycle costs for the system. An additional consideration is the significant disruption to end-users' core business.
To limit the liability of the end-user, facilities managers and their building services consultants need to be aware of alternative systems that will be less affected by the F-gas regulations. One example of this is Water and Refrigerant Flow (WRF), a system that incorporates a water-based heat pump system where only water is circulated through the building and the individual heat pumps contain less than 3kg of refrigerant.
The heat pumps are inspected as part of a normal maintenance routine without any need for pipework inspections. Should a leak occur, only one heat pump would need to be changed and a maximum of 0.5-2.5kg refrigerant would be discharged.
BIFM policy on global warming, which has been adopted from both the HVCA and CIBSE, empowers facilities managers and building services engineers to consider environmental issues at all stages of the lifecycle of buildings, including the use of equipment and systems with reduced or zero global warming potential. With the growing momentum of the F-gas regulations, it is paramount that the industry crystallises its thinking on how different systems can impact on climate change, emissions and the cost of operations.
The new F-gas regulations, should they be adopted and implemented by the UK, will have some serious implications for facilities managers, their supply partners and specifiers that should not be ignored. Professional organisations are ready and able to advise you on the possible implications.
Head of Business Development
Lorne Stewart Services
Tel: 020 8732 2000
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