Gas and a sustainable supply chain

Shaun Evers, managing director, Stonegate Instruments, explores the sector’s transition towards A2L refrigerants, their green credentials and the critical role they could play.

Increasing environmental concerns mean that achieving supply chain sustainability remains high on the agenda for the UK temperature-controlled logistics industry. As the UK supply chain transitions towards a greener future, the introduction of stringent environmental regulations have brought emissions and sustainable operations sharply into focus.

The EU’s F-Gas regulations, in particular, have made temperature-controlled logistics service providers begin to plan for the seemingly inevitable adoption of alternative refrigerants, which will likely lessen their impact on the environment.

Under the regulations, from January 2020, there will be a ban on any refrigerant with a GWP (Global Warming Potential) of more than 2,500. Businesses will be prevented from topping up systems that use some hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant gases such as R404a and R507a – both commonly used in the food supply chain – with new fluid.

And with further restrictions expected in 2021, as GWP refrigerant quotas are further reduced by 55% vs the baseline, the real challenge facing the industry is knowing how best to maintain the integrity of their cold chain, while at the same time ensuring regulatory compliance and reducing carbon emissions.

To support the phasing-down of HFC refrigerant gases, and support the transition towards environmental sustainability alternatives, businesses are increasingly considering low GWP refrigerants such as R454A for their refrigerated transportation and storage applications.

With a 600% increase in the cost of gases such as R404a and R507a reported in 2018, and with wholesalers setting record price rises of up to 60% on the same refrigerants in 2017, the adoption of A2L refrigerants has been accelerated. The de-escalation of less environmentally friendly refrigerants has been fuelled further by an anticipated shortage of more popular HFCs this year, due largely to pre-2018 stockpiles running low.

While environmental regulations will inevitably pose a challenge for the sector, they also present opportunities to not only improve compliance levels with existing regulatory requirements, but also strengthen refrigerated supply chain operations and, perhaps more crucially, sustainable performance.

Shaun Evers, managing director, Stonegate Instruments: “Environmental regulations pose a challenge but also present opportunities to improve compliance and strengthen refrigerated supply chain operations.”

Adopting lower GWP gases is important, however, understanding not only how they will perform, but also obtaining clearer guidance on their safe, long-term use should be fundamental to their implementation. While each emerging refrigerant has its qualities, such as low global warming potential and the ability to be used with higher charge sizes, they also come with strict specification requirements, especially when it comes to the use of refrigerant sensors and the mandatory response time and measurement ranges.

New F-Gas regulations place a greater emphasis on carrying out regular gas leak checks on refrigeration systems. Operators of stationary refrigeration equipment, air conditioning, heat pumps and refrigeration units of refrigerated trucks and trailers that contain F-gases in quantities of 5 tonnes CO2 equivalent (CO2e), or more, must ensure that equipment is routinely checked for leaks. For apparatus without gas leak detection systems installed, the period between mandatory gas leak checks lessens.

The flammable characteristics of some class A2L refrigerants mean operators must ensure the concentration level in a room stays below the lower flammability level (LFL) to avert any threat of ignition. Requirements to maintain levels below the flammability threshold in case of leakage are underpinned by safety legislation and standards such as ISO 5149 and EN 378.

It is possible to manage risk by combining low GWP refrigerants with operational improvements such as leak reduction and temperature control through the use of leading-edge products. New gas leak detection systems, for instance, can ensure leaks are quickly identified and swiftly repaired, minimising any potential environmental damage and safeguarding employees, without compromising the effectiveness of equipment.

Much like the legislation that addresses refrigerant usage, the state-of-the-art technology that ensures their safe and efficient use is constantly developing, meaning cold chain professionals now have the tools at their disposal to meet their obligations for refrigeration systems. What’s more, new products have been designed and developed to cover the A2L refrigerants in harsher environments, since not everyone is going down the CO2 route.

A suitable partner, with long-standing expertise in the industry, can not only help businesses to transition towards more sustainable low GWP refrigerants, but also support proper compliance to keep up with the regulatory momentum, minimise risk and improve efficiency of new and existent refrigeration equipment.

Shaun Evers can be reached on 0113 224 4440, or by email at sales@stonegate-instruments.co.uk.

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