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Importance of Effective Leak Detection Explored in Recent E360 Webinar

In the fifteenth installment of Emerson Climate Technologies’ E360 Webinar series, Director of Innovation John Wallace presented “Understanding Refrigerant Leak Detection and Implementing Effective Programs.” The informative Webinar introduced the impacts of leak detection, provided an overview of current and proposed regulations, and discussed the key elements and technologies used in a leak detection program.

To place  leak detection in the proper context, Wallace explained that an average supermarket has approximately 3,500 pounds of refrigerant on-site, of which approximately 20 percent is lost each year to leaks. While the annual economic cost is nearly $5,000 for an individual store, across a chain of stores this impact becomes much more significant — $500,000 for a 100-site supermarket chain. In this scenario, that environmental impact is equivalent to 124,500 metric tons of CO2: the emissions of 24,000 cars or 10,600 homes. Wallace explained that refrigeration racks and cases are among the largest contributors to supermarket refrigerant leaks. He also provided links to the EPA’s financial impact calculators so that attendees could perform this analysis for their specific scenarios.

Wallace explained that understanding the regulatory landscape is equally as important. The EPA has announced a significant new alternatives policy (SNAP) proposal to amend Section 608 of its Clean Air Act, lowering its existing 35 percent leak detection threshold to 20 percent in industrial process refrigeration and commercial refrigeration. The SNAP proposal also calls for quarterly inspections for systems containing at least 500 pounds of refrigerant. Wallace pointed out the potential for inspections and reminded attendees to familiarize themselves with the EPA’s specific proposal to make sure they know the potential impacts to their particular application.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is also part of the leak detection regulatory landscape. Similar to Section 608, CARB is a state-specific measure that requires periodic leak inspections, reporting and follow-up actions. For systems containing more than 2,000 pounds of refrigerant charge, CARB has mandated the use of Automated Leak Detection (ALD) equipment to ensure ongoing, proper leak detection procedures. Wallace explained how the EPA’s SNAP proposal to Section 608 and CARB both shared some key characteristics, and that ALD equipment would be critical to detecting leaks, issuing notifications, and continuous monitoring and reporting.

Wallace presented the best practices of an effective leak detection program, starting by establishing a zero-tolerance policy that stresses the importance of detecting and minimizing leaks throughout an organization. Then, through utilization of leak detection technology, organizations can begin to correlate leak occurrences to specific equipment, analyze data to identify trends and implement corrective actions. Early detection and proper maintenance procedures are also critical to minimizing leak rates.

Finally, Wallace also talked about the technologies available to help organizations minimize the impacts of leak detection and help them achieve regulatory compliance. He discussed the two primary technology categories and their characteristics, all of which potentially meet CARB’s ALD requirement:

  • Direct — directly monitors the concentration of refrigerants in the air; made up of both active and passive types that can connect to a site monitoring system to provide notifications:
    • Active — centralized system with tubing technology that “sniffs” multiple zones
    • Passive — zone-specific infrared technology
  • Indirect — monitors and interprets the status and operation of the refrigeration system. This method generally uses existing sensors and hardware.

To learn more about leak detection and view this Webinar in its entirety, please visit our website.

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