Can you afford to ignore systems still using R22 refrigerant?


04 April 2017
Ed Whinyates of Stonegrove Refrigeration Services looks at the options available to companies still using an R22 refrigerant and the importance of taking expert advice before making a decision.

When on 1 January 2015 the new restriction preventing the use of re-cycled and reclaimed R22 came into force, many companies had already removed this refrigerant from their business.  However, the new regulations do not prohibit continued operation of plant using existing quantities of HCFC refrigerant, and this has meant there are still a large number of R22 refrigeration systems operating in the UK.
The regulations prevent invasive maintenance, and the direct replacement or topping up of R22 refrigerant, so any loss of R22 is going to be noticeable – from small leaks impacting on performance of plant to major refrigerant leaks rendering the plant useless. 
The major concern for any company still operating with R22 must be the potential risk of a complete loss of refrigerant from the system and the devastating effect this could have on their business. 
We understand that capital investment impacts on the operating costs, especially when there appears to be no immediate return on the investment.  However, this does need to be weighed against the potential impact on the whole business should a catastrophic system failure occur, and the knock-on effect of a direct loss of product (and possibly customers).
There are two clear options available to companies still using R22 refrigerant.  One is a replacement of the refrigeration system and the other option utilising a suitable “drop in” refrigerant.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these options.
1.       Replace with new plant
The main benefits of installing new refrigeration plant are that you can use the latest technology to meet both your current and future requirements.  These can be designed to have the best energy efficiency and a better pay-back on investment.  However, this can be an expensive option with up-front capital costs, and has a longer implementation time than just changing refrigerant. This could make some installations problematic in a live production environment and 24hr operations.
In terms of the refrigerant available for new systems, you can use HFCs with a lower GWP, which at the moment are not due to be phased out.  There is unfortunately no guarantee that the new regulations would not impact on the selected refrigerant blend.  A good example of this is the number of R404A refrigeration systems that have been installed in the past 10 years, which will now need to be changed or replaced by 2020.
You can future proof your plant by selecting refrigerants like HCs, ammonia or CO2.  These can offer your new refrigeration system an excellent life span and, with zero GWP, will not be implicated on any EC regulations and restrictions.
2.       Drop-in refrigerant
There are a number of clear benefits of modernising existing plant to use an alternative refrigerant.  The obvious one is the lower capital costs involved compared to a whole new system.  There are several refrigerant options that can be used, allowing you to retain your existing system.  And with a reasonably quick implementation, there is the reduced risk of impact on the day-to-day running of a business. 
There are problems associated with this option.  Plant efficiency may get worse, along with a reduction of cooling capacity which can impact on reliability.  There is also the longer term capital cost consideration, as at some point the system would need to be replaced due to natural life expiration of any refrigeration system.
What should you do next?
The important thing to do is to speak to a specialist company like Stonegrove Refrigeration Services.  There are a number of considerations that would need to be made, and we can guide you on the best course of action, dependant on your needs and circumstances (both short term and long term).
For further information about how Stonegrove can help you with your refrigeration and air conditioning requirements, please visit our website or contact us on 01279 408690 [email protected]
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