Despite continuing technological advances and innovations, refrigerant leaks worldwide are a challenge for many food retail and food service operators, affecting their profits and bottom line.
In fact, some organisations, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency, put the annual leakage rate at staggering figures.
As a leading commercial refrigeration company, Viessmann Refrigeration Solutions has been an innovator in the transition to less harmful refrigerants since the 1980s and 1990s, when the widespread effects from years of F-gases in food retail were beginning to show their signs.
Due to the earth’s ozone depletion potential and the vast global warming impact caused by F-gases, the refrigeration industry was forced to introduce new solutions, with many, including Viessmann Refrigeration Solutions relying more and more on natural refrigerants.
“We’re the industry that led the way in stepping up to introduce new solutions, from a commercial and B2B aspect,” says Christoph Brouwers, Director for Project Engineering & After Sales with Viessmann Refrigeration Solutions. “What has significantly helped is when various country and regional regulations began putting restrictions on F-gases into place, which included new guidelines and requirements for the refrigeration industry.”
Up until the mid-1990s, it was common for most food retailers to rely on these F-gases for their refrigeration systems. New regulations have helped force the industry to develop and integrate innovations and solutions, which Viessmann Refrigeration has focused on ever since.
“The most impactful regulations on a European level that have had the largest effect are those supporting the use of natural refrigerants,” says Christoph. “Next to the solutions that Viessmann Refrigeration is continuing to develop and innovate for our customers today, the biggest drivers of eradicating F-gases have been these necessary regulations.”
At Viessmann Refrigeration Solutions, our focus is on leveraging technological advances and know-how for the benefit and impact of our large percentage of customers in the food retail and services industry.
While preventing 100% of leakages over the lifetime of a refrigeration system’s installation is unlikely still in 2022, innovations like those being developed by Viessmann Refrigeration Solutions continue to bring down these global refrigerant leakage rates.
However, even when designing the best refrigeration solutions possible and utilising the best installation supplies and quality, the food retail industry will still face some leakage over the typical 8-15-years lifetime of a system.
Leakages happen for various reasons, including vibration, corrosion and outside impact — for instance, due to construction where pipework may be compromised or crushed by heavy machinery or equipment.
The most significant consideration in refrigeration leak prevention will be the equipment manufacturer and the company that's designing and installing the equipment.
In addition to choosing the right manufacturer and refrigeration system designer, there are three other main factors we advise to minimise refrigerant leakages and their effects.
1. Natural alternatives
Viessmann Refrigeration is committed to ecological sustainability to ensure a good life for tomorrow’s generations. That’s why we recommend using refrigerants that are proven to have minimal harmful effects on our planet and the environment.
Viessmann Refrigeration explores ways to utilise these natural refrigerants — and even more with every new installation.
At Viessmann Refrigeration, HVAC and refrigeration is just the beginning. We focus on fully integrated solutions, progressing with a holistic and tailored approach for each unique customer by utilising the power and expertise of our experienced experts.
With a varying range of food retail shops, we recommend holistic solutions starting from secondary refrigerant systems in combination with R290 heat pumps and chillers up to transcritical CO2 booster systems while shifting away from synthetic refrigerants and fossil fuels.
We are strongly convinced that this is the ultimate way to go forward to achieve individual and global sustainability targets set by simultaneously keeping operational costs down.
2. System and component design
When designing a new refrigeration system, the manufacturer and designer must focus on what will maximise the hermitisation concerning all joints and fixtures.
With any system, only hermetically sealed components and brazed joints should be utilised, when possible.
While there have been attempts and innovative breakthroughs around new types of pipework, copper is typically the best and most ideal solution.
“In most environments, copper can withstand for many years in various environments and impacts,” says Christoph. “However, when we know there’s a significant chance of impact due to vibration on parts of our systems, we’ll typically also utilise stainless steel solutions and strong connections that are more resistant to those forces.”
3. Reduce the overall charge of your systems.
With any refrigeration system, we recommend having a limited amount of refrigerant available at any given time.
Reducing the refrigerant charge can limit and sometimes even fully contain and prevent refrigerant from penetrating the air, whether a small leak or something more catastrophic to the system.
Consider a pipe break due to outside impact, where the refrigerant is immediately released into the air.
To improve the installation quality, Viessmann Refrigeration Solutions is putting a tremendous amount of focus on insourcing field erection work into the factory, helping to ensure best-in-class quality while supporting field installers with pipe work under the most convenient conditions.
Surrounding climate conditions should be considered when deciding on a new or existing refrigeration system’s design, as decisions on layout, components, surrounding infrastructure, and location will be vital for the lifespan of any refrigeration system.
Consider a refrigeration system being designed in northern Europe where summer peak temperatures may see an average of just 30 degrees centigrade. Then consider warmer climates in the southern parts of Europe, for instance, in Spain where temperatures can regularly reach a sustained 45 degrees centigrade or more.
When Viessmann Refrigeration is designing a refrigeration system for various climates, our final solution in working with each customer will be fundamentally different, considering the different weather realities and climates.
“Variations of Viessmann Refrigeration’s system designs and component selections are reflected and adapted to ensure they’re ready for the proper climate conditions,” says Christoph. “A well-adapted system design can also consider supporting equipment, including auxiliary units and utilising existing groundwater to help with cooling.”
Ageing and non-serviced equipment and components of existing refrigeration systems remain one of the main reasons behind leakages worldwide.
“Whenever a food retail owner has an existing refrigeration system replaced or remodelled, by changing the refrigerant to a natural one and by bringing in the innovation and new technologies of new systems, we’re dramatically reducing the leakage rates,” says Christoph.
While replacing ageing and dilapidated systems is typically the best solution, it's not always the most realistic or immediate solution for a food retail store owner. That owner may instead opt to have their existing refrigeration system solution maintained and serviced for another few years.
When Viessmann Refrigeration replaces refrigeration systems installed 10, 15 and 20-plus years back, we’re almost always completely switching the system to a natural refrigerant system.
In addition, with age comes wear and tear of the systems’ components and equipment, bringing a higher potential for refrigerant leaks and damages due to this ageing.
This is why it’s generally recommended not to put off replacing an older refrigeration system for too long. In the long run, the short-term investment for a food services business will reap more significant impacts in savings and a more modernly innovative, efficient and sustainable solution.
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