News
07 November 2017

Times they are a changing

A-Gas Refrigerants Product Manager Roger Smith explains how investment in a new separator and a low GWP refrigerant can make a difference in the industry

 

A new £1 million refrigerant separator is up and running at our Portbury plant near Bristol. The official opening took place last month <September 11> and we see this as a significant investment in an area of the business which we believe will grow as the F-Gas Regulations further restrict the supply of high GWP refrigerants on the market.

The new separator, one of three which we now have operating around the world, will more than double the company’s reclamation capacity at Portbury. As the F-Gas Regulations have a greater affect on the market, supplies of reclaimed refrigerant are critical to ensure that there are enough refrigerants to meet demand.

As my colleague John Ormerod explained in a recent issue of ACR Journal, next year a 37 per cent reduction in the quota of virgin gases will become a reality. This is only a matter of weeks away and so this investment in separation technology highlights our commitment to providing the industry with the necessary capacity and infrastructure to support the F-Gas phasedown.

A continued reduction in the use of HFCs will put significant pressure on the supply of high GWP refrigerants, particularly in the years beyond 2018 when there are further large stepdowns in the amount of virgin refrigerant that can be placed on the market.

 Users of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment have a variety of options to move away from high GWP refrigerants – these fall into three main areas: replace the equipment, retrofit the gas with a lower GWP alternative or rely on reclaimed refrigerant.

All three need to be considered because there is no magic bullet for the high GWP challenge but the latter will play an increasing role in the supply mix. The European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE) estimates that roughly a quarter of the 2018 shortfall will need to come from reclaimed sources – otherwise there simply won’t be enough refrigerant on the market to meet demand.

This type of waste we are handling at A-Gas has changed over the years as refrigerant mixtures get more complicated and we start to see much higher quantities of mixed gases. Several different refrigerants combined together in one mix sets us new challenges and without the latest separation technology it is almost impossible to return the gas to the same kind of quality as virgin material.

A further sign that A-Gas is looking to reclaimed refrigerants to help make up the shortfall in supplies has been our new acquisition in Europe. As readers of ACR Journal will no doubt be aware, A-Gas has bought the Dutch reclamation business BTC and will be investing several million pounds in the operation to strengthen the reclamation side of our business across Europe. The deal was completed in the summer and will result in A-Gas further increasing its capacity to handle, clean and return waste gases to the market for resale.

A-Gas is planning to add to the workforce and invest in new equipment. BTC is based at Eygelshoven near the German border which makes it ideally placed to access markets across Europe which, compared with the rest of the world, is leading the way in reclamation.

These are changing times for the refrigerants’ market as reclamation grows in popularity and new products emerge to replace high GWP gases. It can be difficult for engineers and end users to get a handle on all that’s happening but a tip for the top when looking to make the switch is Solstice®ze (HFO R1234ze), one of the best medium-pressure, low GWP refrigerants on the market.

R1234ze is a sustainable, energy-efficient option for different medium temperature uses and has been selected by a number of equipment manufacturers for applications with a capacity range from several kW to 20MW and with large variations in charges.

This includes installations involving large chiller applications and sizeable commercial air conditioning systems in supermarkets and commercial buildings. R1234ze has also been employed to handle medium-temperature jobs featuring heat pumps and CO2 cascade systems in commercial refrigeration.

As an HFO it does not fall under the remit of the current F-Gas phasedowns which gives it a lengthy commercial life and in turn enhances its green credentials. In our view R1234ze is a good fit for large chiller applications and manufacturers have been putting this gas to practical use with equipment designed specifically for this refrigerant. As the gas is a single component, and therefore has no glide, due to its differing properties to R134a, it is not a retrofit alternative. In many instances you will need a larger swept volume compressor for the system but this should not be a barrier to make the switch.

The GWP figures are excellent – dropping from 1320 to seven ­– and R1234ze also has a higher Co-efficient of Performance (CoP) than R134a, so in this respect too you are getting great value from the refrigerant. If you are involved in a large job and want to choose a new refrigerant with a long commercial life, with the green credentials to go with it, this could be one that ticks the boxes for you.