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The importance of record keeping... and ski wax
I’m trying to get this written during school holidays. Yes, they are here again. It seems to be a European thing where they encourage families to get to the ski resorts before the snow disappears. Both short term and long term…
I’m also using the period to catch up on admin and paperwork, and that leads me to the topic for this week.
I’m the first to admit that admin is not my strong point. But when it comes to tracking the work associated with servicing refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pumps (RACHP), there are no shortcuts.
In some places, you don’t have a choice. Such as under the EU F-gas regulations for equipment above five tons CO2e. Having regulations in place doesn’t automatically mean that service records are done well though.
I witnessed this first-hand while doing my F-gas Category 1 training. Within the class there was plenty of enthusiasm for brazing (pipe joining), pressure testing, adding and removing refrigerant and leak checking. When it came to finalising the job with records, let’s just say it wasn’t treated with the same level of excitement.
One could argue that the quality of record keeping, whether paper or digital, is one of the most important challenges for the industry, especially outside regulated areas. Alongside other pressing issues such as general skills shortages.
So, what’s the big deal with record keeping for refrigeration?
As you know by now reading this newsletter, it’s primarily about the refrigerant and the impacts when it leaks. Whether it is the older ozone depleting refrigerants, the climate damaging HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) or the newer HFOs classed as PFAS. Keeping these fluorinated chemicals contained is paramount.
To give you an idea of what is involved. The following is an example of the information to be recorded and kept as part of the EU F-gas regulations.
Amount and type of refrigerant originally installed (the ‘charge’ as discussed last week)
Quantity, and dates, of refrigerant added during maintenance or when repairing a leak
Whether the refrigerant gases used have been recycled or reclaimed
Quantity of any refrigerant recovered (removed from system)
The identity of the company that installed, serviced or decommissioned the equipment
Dates and results of all mandatory leak checks
The measures taken to recover and dispose of the refrigerants (if equipment is being decommissioned)
In short there is nothing overly complex with the requirements. One of the most valuable pieces of information on the service record is the refrigerant added (item two above). How much refrigerant added back into an operational system, is normally indicative of what has leaked. Call it a top-up. This is the basis for refrigerant emissions calculations.
Using natural refrigerants doesn’t give you a free pass either. Leaks are a safety consideration, and leak rates also provide a solid indicator of increased energy use and maintenance costs.
The service records also provide insights on how well the service contractors (or in-house staff) are doing their jobs. Specifically, the response time for repairing leaks. Records which show recurring leaks on the same equipment should be cause for further investigation and action. See my article here for an example of when that likely wasn’t the case.
Refrigerant systems shouldn’t be treated like a petrol tank on a car. It is not something that should get refilled regularly.
Contractors or service personnel that aren’t in tune with the environmental impacts of refrigerants (or operating outside of regulated areas), have been known to keep feeding refrigerant back into a leaking refrigeration system rather than addressing the root cause.
They are rarely the one paying for the extra energy used, or for the additional refrigerant added. Especially as it is not getting any cheaper. The invoices often sent to the accounts department and processed without being questioned. They are not there to spot leak trends.
Of course, it is still common in 2023 to find these records on A4 pieces of paper in a binder on a shelf. There are digital platforms available which can provide an easy way to update these records directly from the field via an App. There are multi-national companies using these systems, working with their facilities teams and contractors to track refrigerant usage. Not just to meet local compliance, but to start driving real emissions reductions programs.
Having this extra digital visibility is critical. Putting leak information in front of sustainability, compliance or risk management teams helps drive action. Entering service records directly from the field avoids the double shuffle of pulling data from invoices, and the quality issues that follow.
There is also value for extending this digital record keeping even further, and centralising at a national level. This is being done currently in a number of countries (e.g. Slovakia, Germany and Poland) but needs to become more widespread.
These are an excellent way of helping guide policy. By having an accurate view of all major equipment, the installed refrigerants and leak rates, it starts to become clear where the focus should be. Whether that is improved training, better enforcement, or incentives for recovering refrigerant at equipment end-of-life.
Having spent many years preaching the importance of energy data to manage it effectively. The same now goes for refrigerant.
Where the F-Gas Hides
Each week I provide an example of where f-gases are utilised, or used to produce something. They are present in more things than most people realise… #wherethefgashides
I didn’t see much snow when I was growing up in Australia. It was in my late twenties after I moved to Europe, that I got dragged to the slopes by friends, and later extended family. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly in my element, but I enjoyed the challenge. The scars from trying to self-learn snowboarding are still with me…
I rarely go these days, and if I do, it is often with a mixed feeling. I sense the days are numbered for the ski stations, certainly the lower altitude ones, and the idea that I’m contributing to that doesn’t sit well. There is also a sense of FOMO especially for my kids. Just as well I don’t like the cold…
Returning to topic. For hiding f-gas you might think I’m going to talk about snow making. I’ve touched on ice rinks previously but for today it is ski wax…
I should have spotted it sooner. We’ve been talking previously about how the fluoropolymer, PTFE, is super slippery and good at repelling water. Which is why we find it, and other PFAS, on our rain jackets, frying pans and shower glass coatings. No suprise then we find it on the bottom of our skis and snowboards also.
They are used in waxes applied to reduce friction on the snow, and also found on some bindings, allowing quick release of the boots when you take a tumble. An important function for wobbly skiers like me. From what I’ve read most ski waxes use perfluoroalkanes but some fluoropolymers are used also (PFPAE and PTFE).
Reports suggest that in applying the wax only 20% ends up on the skis, the remainder going to waste or inhaled. Of what gets applied it practically all wears off in the environment (i.e. the ski run).
It was also surprising to read just how exposed the technicians working in the ski industry are. The particles from the fluorinated wax and other treatments providing exposure potential not far off working in a PFAS manufacturing plant itself. To the extent where the international skiing body, FIS, have restricted use of fluorinated waxes in competition. And like most fluorinated products there are also alternatives that perform plenty well enough.
All that said, whenever I did put on the skis, I was generally trying to find ways to slow myself down. Restricting the use of fluorinated chemicals on my skis is something I won’t unduly miss.
That’s all for this week and ‘till next time,
p.s. the title track from last week – ‘Closest Thing to Crazy’ was from Katie Melua courtesy of one of my wife’s Chillax compilation albums.
p.p.s this week saw the release of the Forever Pollution Project. I’d highly recommend checking it out to get up to speed on the extent of the PFAS problem in the EU
Fixed stuff here for newcomers
There is lots of news every week from the cooling industry and plenty of newsletters that cover it well. The intention is to keep this newsletter focused on the most prominent f-gases (fluorinated greenhouse gases), the most common of which are refrigerants and importantly their environmental impact. That’s the lane I’ve chosen - I’ll do my best to stick to it.
Below is the seven (formal) greenhouse gases that countries and companies should track, report and hopefully reduce.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6)
Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3)
There is also the still circulating, ozone damaging chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and the ‘new-generation’ hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs).
Hopefully you can spot the pattern.
Emissions from f-gases and refrigerants have been the fastest growing greenhouse gases over the past decade (more than CO2 and methane - check out IPCC WG3 summary for policy makers). They are also classed as super pollutants given their outsized global warming and other environmental impacts.
Some useful permalinks
The scale of the climate challenge can often feel daunting. This piece helps me take a step back and understand where we need to focus first - recommend a read.
There are plenty of technology solutions available to address the cooling and refrigerant challenge. You can find many of them here
Beware when the same entities who have contributed to the current f-gas problem propose you new solutions… This is a good place to get up to speed.