Friday, July 19, 2024

How Refrigerant Gas Leak Detectors Improve Safety & Efficiency

From council offices and hospitals to residential homes and schools, the public sector relies on HVAC and refrigeration systems to control temperatures in buildings and prevent perishable goods from going to waste. However, when refrigerant gas is accidentally released, a common problem with these types of systems, employees and users are put in danger and a considerable amount of energy is wasted. Shaun Evers, Managing Director of Stonegate, explains how today’s advanced gas detection technology enables public sector organisations to eliminate these health and safety risks and ensure energy-efficient temperature control.

Hidden hazards

For organisations responsible for providing public services, often for some of the most vulnerable people in society, a leaking HVAC or refrigeration system presents a major challenge. An inability to control temperatures effectively can make buildings like hospitals and care homes uncomfortable for users, and cause foods, medicines and other materials in cold storage to perish, with their replacement stretching already tight budgets. At the same time, organisations will need to ensure that employees and users do not come into contact with these harmful and potentially lethal gases. Indeed, the risks here are not just to health and safety, but to the reputation of the organisation and the potential financial losses resulting from lawsuits.

The biggest challenge for public sector organisations is knowing that a refrigeration gas leak has taken place at all. In the UK, the majority of leaks remain undiscovered until around 60% of the gas has already escaped, by which time it may have been causing issues for a considerable period. Employees and users exposed to these gases are at risk of a wide range of harmful effects, including coughing, headaches, nausea, breathing difficulties and skin and eye irritation. When gas concentration levels are high, for instance, in confined spaces, people can lose consciousness or potentially asphyxiate. Furthermore, some refrigerant gases are flammable, creating a substantial fire hazard: a major risk in buildings like hospitals where evacuations are highly challenging operations.

Given the financial pressures facing the public sector and today’s high energy prices, the cost of running an HVAC or refrigeration system can be a burden on budgets. These costs, however, are exacerbated by a leaking system. According to The Carbon Trust, the average system loses 20% of its refrigerant gas each year. As a result, those systems work 11% less efficiently and thus require 11% more energy to perform as required. With leaks not usually detected until 60% of the gas has been lost, running costs by this time will be 33% higher. To prevent this money from being wasted, it is important to detect and fix issues swiftly.

Complying with F-gas regulations

As refrigerant gases can have a global warming potential (GWP) several thousand times greater than CO2, the government has imposed strict regulations to limit their environmental impact. For instance, when servicing or refilling systems with a refrigerant charge equal to or above 40 tonnes of CO2, the use of fluorinated gases (F-gases) with a GWP above 2,500 is prohibited. With regard to gas leak checks, there are now rules that stipulate their frequency, ranging between quarterly and annually, depending upon a system’s CO2 equivalent tonnage. Systems with F-gas equivalent to 500 tonnes of CO2 or higher, meanwhile, must be fitted with gas leak detectors. Moreover, the UK is currently reviewing its F-gas regulations and may follow the EU in phasing F-gases out completely by 2050.

Next-gen gas detection technology

The evolution of F-gas regulations has inspired the development of next-generation gas detection technology. These intelligent sensors can swiftly detect both hazardous and non-hazardous gases and use specially configured semiconductors or infrared sensing elements to identify refrigerant gases with acute precision. Indeed, their sophisticated programming enables them to detect predetermined mixtures of refrigerant gas and air so that their sensitivity can be tailored to the precise environment where they are to operate. This is possible even in extreme environments, such as cold storage, or in large facilities, like sports centres or public libraries. Additionally, by calibrating a sensor’s integrated active filters to ignore non-important gases, it is possible to extend its lifecycle.

Aside from detecting gas leaks, modern gas detectors also carry out the vital role of alerting people in the vicinity so they can be kept out of danger. Built-in LED indicators indicate the presence and status of the sensors, and there are audio-visual signalling alarms to alert employees and users. These next-gen detectors have also been created to integrate with Building Management Systems, enabling proactive monitoring to be facilitated either centrally or online, thus improving diagnostics and communication.

For public sector organisations using HVAC or refrigeration systems, the latest gas detectors provide a range of key benefits. They make buildings safer for employees and users while assisting with regulatory compliance; they prevent ineffective temperature control causing perishable items to go to waste; and they significantly reduce energy wastage and its related costs. As such they can play an instrumental role for the public sector.

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