Freezing out the dangers of gas leaks


27 November 2017
The demand for gas detection equipment is growing across a wide range of industries, with companies keen to improve the efficiency of their cold store systems and ensure the safety of their staff. Shaun Evers, Managing Director of Stonegate Instruments, discusses how technology is playing a pivotal role in reducing both leaks and the costly associated effects.
The old adage that prevention is better than cure is true in many circumstances, but sometimes it is simply impossible to predict when disaster may strike.

Refrigerant gas leaks, for instance, often occur before staff realise anything is wrong. While it is impossible to predict when a leak may happen, the latest technology is making it possible to alert workers the moment gas escapes. This enables companies to identify the cause of the leak and make the necessary repairs before either workforce or the environment comes to harm.

Businesses and contractors have had chance to come to terms with the latest set of regulations governing the handling of F-Gases since the rules came into force in the EU in January 2015.

These regulations include bans or restrictions on F-Gases in some new equipment, such as refrigerators, heat pumps and air conditioners, conditions on the quantities of gases and rules regarding containment, use, recovery and destruction of HFCs.

However, while chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) gases have been banned in new refrigeration equipment, and replaced by hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), even these gases are not environmentally friendly and still have a global warming potential of more than 3,000 times that of CO2.

Responsibility for complying with these restrictions lies firmly with the equipment operator. This may not necessarily be the owner – it could be a third-party contractor taking legal responsibility for equipment upkeep – but in the first instance, the owner should assume responsibility until contractual exchanges have taken place.

A refrigerant gas leak can be costly not only in terms of penalties for breaching regulations, although successful prosecutions by the Environment Agency have seen fines totalling thousands of pounds handed out to operators who allow highly potent F-Gases to escape.

Exposure to such gases can be harmful to workers, with symptoms ranging from irritation of the throat, eyes and skin to frostbite, chemical burns and in the most severe cases lung and brain damage.

Leaks also damage the environment, with the Carbon Trust estimating that a leak of 1kg of refrigerant gas can have the same impact as a van driving for 10,000 miles.

For businesses, leaking equipment spells spiralling energy costs. If gas escapes, equipment must work harder to remain at the correct temperature, using increasingly larger amounts of energy as it does so.  If left unrepaired for three months, a small leak in a typical 300kW refrigeration system could result in increased energy costs of £1,400 – not to mention the bill for the repair when it is eventually identified.

Gas emissions occur for a variety of reasons, including equipment malfunction, improper maintenance work, mechanical damage and accidental release during refrigerant replenishment. Whatever the cause, it is imperative that workers are alerted to any release as quickly as possible.

Technology plays a vital part in identifying leaks as soon as they occur. As around 60% of gas escapes before anyone notices, it is impractical to expect employees to identify leaks; moreover, the latest EU regulations stipulate that equipment with 300kg or more of refrigerants be fitted with a leak detector. These detectors must have a sensitivity of 5g/year and should be checked after 25 hours of continuous use and calibrated with a 1,000ppm gas to air mix.

The latest gas detection systems can be programmed to detect a wide range of both toxic and non-toxic gases, including HFCs. These sophisticated detectors alert workers with audio and visual alarms, and have a battery back-up system in the case of power failure.

LED colours can be used to indicate the status of each sensor. These are arranged in different zones, so in the event of a gas leak, it can be swiftly identified and repaired without delay.

As regulations on the use of refrigerant gases become increasingly stringent, technology exists to help businesses combat potentially dangerous and costly emissions. Even the most sophisticated devices on the market have a return on investment time of just two years, therefore installing technology to monitor leaks in cold storage offers a simple yet effective solution for operators in any sector.

Stonegate Instruments designs, develops and manufactures electronic equipment for the refrigeration industry including gas detectors. The company’s products are proven in cold storage facilities for reducing energy, carbon emissions and the associated costs.
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