Food supply chain must be ready for refrigeration change

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The need to invest in alternative technology to hydrofluorocarbons for refrigeration can be a short-term financial burden, Chris Sturman, chief executive of the Food Storage and Distribution Federation has warned.

Nevertheless, he said: “We must focus on the long-term benefits. By taking a lead in technological and chemical modernisation, the refrigeration industry has the chance to lead by example.”

Sturman pointed out that our use of hydrofluorocarbons stands to change dramatically over the next decade.

“The 2014 update of European Union F-Gas regulation strengthens and adds to the 2006 guidelines. An EU review on the use of F-Gas in the refrigeration industry has resulted in the implementation of a phase down over the next 15 years, cutting uses of high GWP F-Gases by 79 per cent before 2030.

“With HFCs crucial to our industry and alternatives not currently ready for use, the forced phase down must catalyse development of new technology. In the meantime, a quota system will be introduced in the EU to control sales of HFCs, using a baseline of average consumption in the EU market between 2009 and 2012.

“The phase down starts at a moderate rate with 100 per cent baseline sales allowed in 2015, apparently reducing by only 7 per cent in 2016 and 2017. However, within the quota will be included all imported equipment, pre-charged with HFCs. Imported F-Gases (Fluorinated gases) will be accounted for and users will have to buy from licensed suppliers within the quota system. The effect is already driving up prices fourfold and reducing supply. As a result, the reality of yearly market restrictions may be equivalent to twice the figure officially stated by the EU.

“We have to find ways to reduce our use of F-Gases, or to find alternatives fast. However, implementing practical changes, such as the replacement of high global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants with medium GWP HFCs (eg R407F instead of R404A) can help prepare you for the phase down. For new equipment, very high GWP HFCs should not be used at all. Instead, these should be replaced with ‘ultra-low’ GWP refrigerants such as ammonia or CO2, which will not be affected by the market restrictions.

“Reducing equipment leakage in the ways provided for in the regulation will also make existing stock last longer. It is worth investing in low leakage designs for new equipment, which will reduce the need for replenishment as frequently. The requirement to use trained and certificated engineers to City & Guilds standard 2079 or equivalent on a regular, timetabled, maintenance schedule will be a key part of this process.”

Sturman pointed out that F-Gases are not the only substances subject to changing regulation. The use of ammonia will also be affected by the newly revised PM81 Guidance to be endorsed by the HSE and linked to compliance with the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations (DSEAR). Publication is expected in mid October of this year.

“The FSDF, in conjunction with the Institute of Refrigeration, has already published a self-assessment checklist on ammonia systems for members’ use,” he said, pointing out that changes in regulation will necessitate the revision of company internal guidelines, as government and industry jointly work together to reduce the use of gases that accelerate global warming, as well as pollutants, which result from diesel engines.

“A further new EU regulation is expected by the end of 2015, which will necessitate the redesign, and manufacture of non-road mobile machinery (NRMM). The technology of diesel engines that power refrigeration will need to be modernised to match that of truck engines in terms of reduced environmental impact.

“The Directive 97/68/EC on the emission of gaseous and particulate pollutants from internal combustion engines to be installed in NRMMs, was last amended in Directive 2012/46/EU. This sets emissions standards for hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides and particulate matter. With updated legislation expected by the end of the year and a reasonable transition period, we have time to see out the existing fleet and integrate new low emissions technology once it has been developed.

“Overall, the legal landscape is changing and shaping the future of our industry. Pressure to improve environmentally harmful technology is leading to tightened restrictions for the refrigeration industry.

“Not only are we preparing ourselves for the future, we are also showing that it is possible to continue to provide high quality service and product quality and safety within the food supply chain, while protecting our environment for generations to come,” said Sturman.

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