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20 June 2016

Key role for leak detection

A-Gas Managing Director John Ormerod, on the technologies the industry is using to sharpen its game in this area.

Leak detection is one of the key planks in ensuring that the F-Gas Regulations will achieve what is expected of them. With the refrigerant quotas starting to bite, making sure that a system doesn’t leak has never been more important. If a refrigeration system doesn’t leak, clearly you save money not having to top it up.

As we move down the curve to lower GWP refrigerants, working with flammable and mildly flammable refrigerants will become unavoidable. Up until now, a system running on non-flammable refrigerants has been viewed as desirable in terms of safety and the cost to the end user, but with the introduction of flammable and mildly flammable refrigerants, having an effective leak detection regime will now grow in importance.

The key to success is employing best practice, which some engineers are already doing. Employing robust leak detection becomes even more important with new installations, as you will have to take a closer look at how you detect leaks. Relying on pressure or vacuum decay, or using bubble spray is no longer the most efficient way of detecting problems in systems that leak. There are now far more sensitive methods that you can use.

Trace gas technologies were for many years the preserve of the nuclear and aerospace industries, but with the increasing availability of low cost detectors, this method can provide a high-tech and economical solution for the HVAC industry. A hydrogen/nitrogen based leak detection mixture can deliver a non-flammable, non-toxic, safe and highly effective solution.

Fast-moving hydrogen is one of the smallest molecules, enabling it to move rapidly through the system and to locate leaks quickly. Using a suitable detector, this provides an effective method of tracing leaks up to 100 times more sensitive than bubble spray. It has also been proven to be more efficient than other trace gases such as helium.

Trace-A-Gas® from A-Gas is a leak detection system with a five per cent hydrogen and 95 per cent nitrogen mixture. Case studies have shown that by using this, leaks can be detected in the smallest of quantities and very quickly. This means, that engineers can sleep at night knowing they have done their very best to ensure  a system is not leaking.

This kind of technology can test all areas of a system, including insulated or difficult-to-access pipework. It also means that engineers have to spend less time on site and it helps reduce costs by avoiding re-work.

Not only will the adoption of this technology result in the efficient detection of leaks that were previously considered impractical, it will also help to reduce the effect of the HVAC industry on global warming and the ozone layer.

The focus on leak reduction also means that the industry is now having to up its game regarding what it does, when leaks are discovered. It is no longer acceptable from a legal perspective to allow a system to continue to leak and do nothing about it. Recording what action has been taken and where the leaks have been found is crucial.

The legislation that came into force at the beginning of last year set the industry the task of leak testing based on CO2 equivalent calculations, rather than kilograms in a system. It also demanded follow-up checks from as early as 30 days to ensure that the work had been successful.

The law also requires accurate F-Gas log books. Traditional methods of refrigerant reporting are time consuming and have required a large paper trail. With this comes the added burden of endless filing and the risk of losing paper copies.

Online technology can now monitor systems that leak and record this information at the touch of a button. More importantly this can be carried out while the engineer is out of the office by using a mobile phone or tablet.

A-Gas has employed 20 years’ experience in refrigerant reporting, leak testing and cylinder tracking to find an alternative to the paper trail. By talking to industry experts, distributors, engineers and end users it was able to develop Gas-Trak Online™ (GTO), an app which provides a simple way of meeting F-Gas compliance.

The F-Gas regulation requires that fixed air conditioning or refrigeration equipment containing  F-Gases  is listed on  a F-gas Register. The app is able to log all refrigerant use and summarise the data in a unique online F-Gas log-book. The app’s GWP calculator will calculate the CO2 equivalent of refrigerants for you and track refrigerant cylinders.

Improved leak detection is very much a part of the F-Gas Regulations and will have an  increasing influence on the industry. Some engineers are already sharpening up on leak detection and I am impressed by the way, that they are now adopting trace gas and online technologies to achieve this.  Improved leak detection forms part of our rethink on the lifecycle performance of systems. This is a key factor for customers and engineers and we are now getting better on leak detection as this more holistic approach in managing refrigerant use is adopted.