Early warning systems and the crucial role of leak detection


15 January 2018
Ed Whinyates of Stonegrove Refrigeration and Mark Scott of TQ Environmental look at the benefits of leak detection and the role it has to play in the changing regulations within the refrigeration and air conditioning industry.
With the changes in F-Gas regulations and the EN378 standard (safety and environmental standard), coupled with the ongoing rises in refrigerant costs, the need for leak detection systems is becoming more apparent.  So whether it is a legal requirement based on regulations, or a prudent stance to help prevent large losses of costly refrigerant leaking from a system, the choice to install a leak detection system needs to be seriously considered.    
What is a leak detection system?
Leak detection is an early warning system that immediately alarms if there is a leakage of toxic, flammable or asphyxiate gases. It gives protection to members of staff and the general public, as well as protecting the environment, thus enabling businesses to comply with the latest F-Gas regulations, health & safety at work regulation and EN378 standards.
Which gases can be detected?
Leak detection systems are designed to detect most flammable toxic and asphyxiate gases, including ammonia, CO2, hydrocarbons, Freon gases (CFC, HCFC & HFC refrigerants), methane, solvents and many more.
What are the benefits of leak detection?
Having leak detection means that you adhere to existing regulations and you can save people’s lives by providing a healthier and safer work environment for staff and public on site.  It also helps the environment by reducing leakage of refrigerant gases into the atmosphere, which in turn helps saves money on refrigerant costs. If a leak is detected and repaired, regardless of how small, it will improve the efficiency of a refrigeration system.  This again reduces costs longer term – both energy consumption and the hours of manual problem solving - and maintains good practice on site. 
How often does a refrigeration system need to be checked?
Leak checks under the F-Gas regulations changed on 1 January 2017.  The regulations refer to the mandatory documented leak checks applied to air conditioning and refrigeration equipment.  This is based on how much damage a leak could cause to the atmosphere if the whole refrigerant charge were to be released.  (Please note the term ‘charge’ refers to the amount of refrigerant contained within a system).
The frequency of the test inspections is based on the GWP (Global Warming Potential) of the refrigerant multiplied by the estimated volume contained in each individual system – this gives the CO2e figure. (CO2e is the abbreviation for carbon dioxide equivalent.  It is a standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. The idea is to express the impact of each different greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of warming).
If the system contains between:
  • 5 and 50 tonnes CO2e it requires one inspection per year.
  • 50 to 500 tonnes CO2e it requires inspection every six months.
  • Greater than 500 tonnes CO2e it requires quarterly inspections.
The leak checking frequency can be halved if permanent leak detection systems are fitted. Permanent leak detection systems are mandatory for system charges of 500 tonnes CO2 equivalent and above.  (This information has been sourced from UK Government website). 
Where can leak detection systems be found? 
As well as sites where commercial and industrial refrigeration systems are installed, leak detection systems lend themselves to a variety of industries and locations both onshore and offshore. These include nuclear power stations, hospitals, oil rigs, retail, supermarkets, food distribution centres, ships, breweries, meat processing plants, schools and hotels to name but a few.
What type of system is best for you?
When looking at a leak detection system, whether as part of a new installation, or to retrospectively fit on an existing plant, there are a number of factors that need to be considered. It would depend on the type of project and the specific requirements on site. 
There are a number of hard-wired systems in the marketplace, where you have individual sensors at single locations connected to a main control panel. The main benefits of this type of system is that it provides continuous detection, it can be connected to up to 40 individual sensors and can monitor a wide range of gases. The hard-wired system is very reliable and requires minimal maintenance and simple calibration.    
Alternatively you can have an aspirated/sampling system which has one sensor in the control panel that can sample different detection points on timed intervals using infra-red technology. The main benefits of this type of system are the multi-port sampling capability, a good system can monitor different gasses at different set points with pre-programmable zone identifications, as well as automatic pressure and temperature compensation. As well as being a low cost solution to multi-point detection, there is not always a requirement for recalibration as part of its service and maintenance. But you need to check that it is working annually.   
The best advice would be to contact a manufacture of leak detection systems, as they are able to offer guidance on what is best for your application and can supply you with the necessary technical information.
Who are experts on leak detection?
There are a number of leak detection system providers in the marketplace today who can offer the end user a variety of systems and sensors. If you require leak detection select carefully and make sure you choose the right system for your needs.
Stonegrove Refrigeration has worked together on a number of recent projects with TQ Environmental - who are a UK-based company that specialises in gas monitoring and refrigerant leak detection systems. It designs and manufactures its own systems from its HQ in Wakefield.  
For further information and advice relating to leak detection systems, contact TQ Environmental:
01924 271013
[email protected]
For refrigeration queries, contact Stonegrove Refrigeration:

01279 408690
[email protected]
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