Solving food manufacturing refrigeration issues; Naturally

Solving food manufacturing refrigeration issues; Naturally

The food manufacturing industry is facing a significant challenge. What to do with refrigeration systems?

For those of you who don’t yet know it, or for those trying desperately to ignore it, there are a set of EU regulations (517/2014) which are having - and will continue to have - a serious impact on the food manufacturing industry.

Commonly known as the F Gas regulations, they govern the use of refrigerant gases used in the cooling systems that keep our food factories and processes - cold or frozen.

Since January 2015, a host of regulations have been introduced to ensure that static and mobile refrigeration and freezing units are safer for the environment. The proven links between global warming potential (GWP) and fluorocarbon (F) gases are stronger than ever.

Global Warming Potential (GWP) is a relative measure of how much heat a greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere. It compares the amount of heat trapped by a certain mass of the gas in question to the amount of heat trapped by a similar mass of carbon dioxide. A GWP is calculated over a specific time interval, commonly 20, 100, or 500 years. GWP is expressed as a factor of carbon dioxide (whose GWP is standardized to 1).

Several legal requirements are now in place to minimise the effects of these gases. These regulations were designed to strengthen the existing measures and introduce a number of far-reaching changes by:

  • Limiting the total amount of the most important F-gases that can be sold in the EU from 2015 onwards and phasing them down in steps to one-fifth of 2014 sales in 2030.
  • Banning the use of F-gases in many new types of equipment where less harmful alternatives are widely available.
  • Preventing emissions of F-gases from existing equipment by requiring checks, proper servicing and recovery of the gases at the end of the equipment's life.

Now, a further set of changes are coming into effect. By 1 January 2020, any refrigerants with a Global Warming Potential of 2,500 or more will be banned. So, that’s refrigerant gases R404A, R507, R417B and R422D. And it gets worse. This year there is also a 37 per cent cut in the available virgin gases that can be placed on the EU market.

This means that prices are going to rocket. Bottles of R404A gas are going to be this year’s ‘must have’ Christmas present. Prices have already tripled in the past three months. From April to July, the prices of R404A and R507 have risen by 225 per cent in Europe. Expect the poor old maintenance or facilities Manager to get a bashing for overspending his repairs budget.

The situation is only going to get worse as the supplies dry up. The Cooling Post predicts that the situation is getting critical. It says: ‘In order to respect the limit imposed by the 2018 quota reduction, at least 50 per cent of current R404A systems would need to be retrofitted by the end of 2018’.

Natural refrigeration

If you are responsible for procurement, maintenance or capital purchases of refrigeration systems what are the alternative options available to you?

Given that most refrigeration systems will have a lifespan of more than 20 years, don’t get suckered in to purchasing a ‘bargain’ that is going to be obsolete or unmaintainable in 10 years’ time.

One option to explore is to use a natural refrigerant such as ammonia (R717), carbon dioxide (R744), propane (R290) or butane (R600). These are chemicals which occur in nature’s bio-chemical processes. They do not deplete the ozone layer and make a negligible or zero contribution to global warming because they are highly efficient.

The big challenge for decision makers is the capital cost of either retrofitting or replacing existing systems. Typically, to install an ammonia/glycol refrigeration system over a R507 system, there will be a capital on cost of around 40 per cent. However, this is only part of the equation. From a revenue point of view, the operating costs (energy, maintenance and repairs) of an ammonia system will be lower, so the full Lifecyle cost of the installation must be considered to give a balanced argument.

With the recent summer’s record temperatures putting pressure on existing fridge systems’ ability to maintain factory temperatures, combined with the added burdens of the regulations and spiralling maintenance costs, is it time to consider what the strategic future might look like in your organisation rather than ‘sticking another plaster on’ as a temporary fix?

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