Star Refrigeration Group sales and marketing director Rob Lamb warned that prices of some refrigerant gases had already risen five- or six-fold, and are expected to rise much higher as the F-Gas (fluorinated greenhouse gas)Regulations, which came into force on January 1 2015, begin to bite.
Over the past 15 years, the refrigeration industry has seen the gradual phase out of synthetic, ozone-depleting refrigerants. From January 2015 the last of these hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) gases, including R22, were banned in Europe. Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants have been widely used as replacement gases, but they have been found to have a high global warming effect and are currently the subject of a phase out programme.
The regulations progressively restrict the amount of synthetic HFC gases that can be used over the next 15 years, and this will affect costs in several ways, said Lamb.
Refrigerant gases have traditionally made up only about 1% of the cost of a refrigeration system, but it has climbed to about 4–5%, adding to the capital cost. Replacement costs of any gases have also shot up and any systems suffering a significant leakage after 2020 may be put out of action as there will be restrictions on refilling them.
As a result, said Lamb, it was expected natural gases such as ammonia and carbon dioxide would be used much more widely. He explained: “Natural gases such as ammonia have been successfully used as refrigerants for over 100 years. Ammonia has no global warming effect and offers high efficiency, long-term availability and low cost per kilogram.
“The use of carbon dioxide as a refrigerant is also growing in popularity due to its relatively low global warming potential.”
He added: “The initial capital cost of plant that operates on a natural refrigerant may be higher, but the lifecycle cost of running the system is key. Those who continue to operate cooling systems with hydrofluorocarbons are facing the risk of escalating running costs in the short- to medium-term.”
Lamb concluded: “We believe that natural refrigerants such as ammonia and carbon dioxide offer long term security.”