Scott Dargan counts the cost of keeping cool

The tightening controls on F-Gases with high global warming potential (GWP) is driving fears of an impending shortage of supply, which has sent prices soaring. The retail price of one of the most widely used refrigerants, R404A, has increased by more than 500 per cent since May 2016 – making it progressively costly to keep certain refrigerated fleets operational.

These are the wide-reaching implications of regulations intended to greatly reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the EU. In 2015, legislation was introduced to phase down permitted supplies of HFCs and subsequent emissions from F-Gases, which are potent greenhouse gases used across all industries, including refrigeration and air-conditioning.

Within the transport refrigeration sector, this means new controls on the use and emissions of HFCs as refrigerants in systems installed on vehicles above 3.5 tonnes.

The measures include:

  • Refrigerant charge to be referred to in terms of CO2 equivalent rather than kilograms.
  • By 2030, the quantity of CO2 equivalent related to HFCs upplied into the EU will be cut by 79 per cent compared to the 2015 baseline.
  • For operators, any intentional release of F-Gases into the atmosphere is banned; all detected leaks must be repaired without delay.
  • Refrigerant-handling operations on commercial trucks and trailers must be carried out by trained technicians holding an F-Gas handling certificate.
  • Mandatory leak checks must be performed on refrigerated commercial trucks and trailers above a certain threshold – with rapid repairs carried out if leaks are detected.
  • Operators must keep specified records for five years for each piece of equipment subject to a mandatory leak check.

These measures have been met with varying levels of success, with some of the new F-Gas regulations easier to monitor and enforce than others. In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) is conducting a voluntary consultation across the industry to tackle the problem of non-compliance.

According to Defra, many business and environmental stakeholders have concerns about the penalty measures and if they provide a sufficient deterrent. As it stands, any business in breach of the regulations is handed an enforcement notice, which carries no financial penalty. If the infringement is rectified, further action is rarely taken.

Though the potential for criminal prosecution exists, and can carry substantial penalties, it is infrequently pursued as the process is resource-intensive and often costly. As a result, for many, there is little risk or seemingly little to lose from persistent non-compliance.

To tackle the non-compliance issue, Defra is considering moving away from the current criminal penalty regime and introducing civil penalties, ranging from £1000 through to £200,000, depending on the severity of the infringement and size of business.

While Carrier Transicold UK awaits the results of the consultation, we welcome this suggested enforcement change. It levels the playing field, ensuring any business persistently failing to meet the regulations faces serious consequences.

Though a new penalty scheme may be implemented in the future, the financial implications of the new regulations are being felt right now. As mentioned, R404A has seen a skyrocketing price increase. Driving this is the fact that the amount of F-Gas that can be placed legally into the EU by gas suppliers was reduced by seven per cent between 2015 and 2016. More markedly, by 2020, it will drop by 37 per cent.

To keep costs under control and protect your business, it’s vital to invest in the right technology. Across the European refrigeration and air conditioning industry, more than 50 per cent of refrigerant consumption goes toward ‘topping up’ leaking systems – effectively haemorrhaging money.

Carrier Transicold has worked hard to develop systems which minimise levels of leakage, reducing the environmental impact while also delivering savings.

Take our Vector® 1550 and 1950 units as an example, their microchannel heat exchanger coils reduce refrigerant charge by up to 25 per cent. Their patented e-Drive® all-electric technology also means they can offer improved refrigerant containment that can reduce refrigerant leak rates by as much as 55 per cent over conventional belt-driven systems. That’s less gas required to start with, plus less chance of losing it, so a double benefit.

Lowering charges and reducing leaks will help limit costs but using refrigerants with a lower GWP is also worth consideration. At Carrier Transicold, we promote R452A as the best current option, offering it on all new transport refrigeration units. R452A gives a 45 per cent reduction in GWP versus R404A and, combined with the e-Drive, represents a powerful way of limiting environmental and financial risks.

Our vision is to develop sustainable alternatives that take this even further. We already operate more than 30 prototype trailer units running exclusively with closed-loop carbon dioxide natural refrigerant – known as R744. With an ultra-low GWP of just one, it is the baseline from which all other refrigerants currently used in transport are measured. Others have a GWP of hundreds, even thousands, times higher.

For now, though, specifying transport refrigeration units with low refrigerant charges, class-leading containment levels and reduced GWP values will have a progressively important impact on your bottom line as the HFC phase-down legislation continues to tighten.

Scott Dargan is Managing Director Northern Europe & Service EMEAR, Carrier Transicold. For more than 45 years, Carrier Transicold has been an industry leader, providing customers around the world with advanced, energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable container refrigeration systems and generator sets, directdrive and diesel truck units, and trailer refrigeration systems.