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Industry Sets Sights on Reducing Refrigerant Leaks

For decades, refrigerant leaks have been considered an inevitable yet unfortunate consequence of operating typical supermarket refrigeration systems. Often thought of as a cost of doing business, refrigerant leaks and their far-reaching impacts are largely underestimated.

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With increased consumer, business and regulatory focus on minimizing the environmental impacts of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, food retailers are recognizing the importance of reducing refrigerant leaks through effective leak detection practices.

Before implementing strategies to reduce refrigerant leaks, it’s important we fully understand the regulatory landscape to better align our efforts with existing and proposed regulations.

Increased Regulatory Focus on Leak Detection

The EPA introduced Section 608 as part of the Clean Air Act (CAA) in the 1990s to address emissions of ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbon and hydrochlorofluorocarbon refrigerants used in stationary refrigeration and air conditioning. The main tenets of the ruling are designed to ensure proper use, handling and disposal of these refrigerants.

In October 2015, the EPA announced a significant new alternatives policy (SNAP) proposal to amend Section 608 of its CAA.1 It incorporates some of the key elements of the CARB initiative and lowers the leak rate threshold for penalties.

As with all SNAP proposals, the EPA encouraged the industry to submit public comments to the federal register. We don’t yet know when the final rule will be announced, but given its alignment with the CARB regulations, the proposal will likely lower the leak threshold and recommend automated monitoring or more frequent leak inspections.

Key Elements of Effective Leak Detection Programs

Accurate detection methods, reliable notifications and continuous monitoring are the key elements in an effective leak detection program. When developing your program, your aim should be to not only establish proper leak detection response protocols, but also institute proactive measures to minimize or eliminate leaks altogether.

Detection — an effective program starts with detection. There are differing technologies available depending on your requirements, and I will address these in the last section of this blog. But installing devices in the locations most likely to produce refrigerant leaks — particularly racks and cases — is as equally as important.

Notifications — ensure that the correct individuals in the organization are alerted when a leak has occurred. Alarms are typically remote, local or a combination of the two. Most remote notifications are tied into the store’s energy management system that will alert a technician or monitoring center to ensure that the leak is handled correctly.

Continuous monitoring — is one aspect that is often overlooked. By recording and analyzing the data around leak events, retailers can correlate the leaks with different types of equipment or maintenance events. In doing so, they can identify problem areas, develop more effective leak detection programs and improve their overall operations.

Conclusion: Leak Detection Makes Good Business Sense

With the renewed regulatory focus on reducing refrigerant leaks, retailers are taking a closer look at developing effective leak detection strategies. Through the help of ALD devices, retailers can achieve continuous monitoring, satisfy reporting requirements and reduce the need to perform manual inspections.

But achieving compliance with current or future regulations is only one benefit. When you examine the cost of lost refrigerant, the degradation of refrigerated system performance and the potential for eventual food loss, the business case for implementing effective leak detection programs is as clear as refrigerant-free air.

This blog is a summary of the article Industry Sets Sights on Reducing Refrigerant Leaks from our recent edition of E360 Outlook. Click here to learn more about effective leak detection.


References

  1. http://www2.epa.gov/snap/608-proposal
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