Institute of Refrigeration: a Knowledge Transfer Partnership on solving refrigerant leakage

Historically, owners of commercial and industrial refrigeration equipment have not considered leakage to be an issue worthy of major investment as most systems continue to work, albeit inefficiently, when leaking.

Commercial cooling systems use about 16% of the UK's electricity and are responsible for around 10% of green-house gas emissions. The leakage of refrigerant gases from equipment contributes significantly to this and a recent European Regulation has been introduced on F-Gases – the most common refrigerants. This puts a legal obligation on the equipment users to check and record leakage and to reduce it where technically and economically feasible.

The IOR recognised that a system which is subject to high levels of refrigerant leakage has a high global warming impact and operates less efficiently and less reliably. They called upon the expertise based at LSBU for some sound technical advice to address these issues, initially via a consultancy project that was eventually converted into a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP).

Encouraging collaboration

KTPs are programmes that encourage collaboration between universities and businesses in the UK.  KTPs involve three parties: a university, a recent graduate and a company – including small, medium and large companies, charities, not-for-profit organisations and the public sector.

Part-funded by the government, KTPs provide unique benefits to all three parties; the university as a whole, the student associate and the business. LSBU apply their knowledge and expertise to important problems facing businesses, identifying new research themes and undergraduate and postgraduate projects. The results are often published in high quality journals and conference papers. Recent LSBU graduates are able to enhance their employability and skills and get the opportunity to earn a full salary. The company gets the qualities of an outstanding graduate partially paid for and the expertise and technical support of the university – who work in close connection with all parties. Read more about KTPs.

Embedding knowledge

There were two elements to the IOR project. The first part was focused on gathering together underlying research, case studies and guidance notes. The second part involved embedding the knowledge in the industry. Project associate David Cowan and the team undertook site surveys of different types of refrigeration system. They then used the results to develop a range of information and guidance notes such as software tools, training materials and a CPD certified training and assessment scheme. These will help equipment designers, installers, operators and maintainers to understand better the environmental and financial impact of refrigerant leakage and how to contain refrigerants within refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) systems.

Massive reductions in emissions

The initiative has helped to significantly change practices for site operators who took part in the initial research. As a result there has been considerable reduction in leakage related to their equipment. The carbon savings realised across the trial sites equated to nearly 8,000 tonnes of CO2 (e) per annum, which represents a massive 43% reduction in annual leakage.

The IOR will undertake follow up activities to determine the effectiveness of the recommendations made to system operators. They are also working with other organisations across the RAC industry to promote the REAL Zero methodology and training scheme - a series of one day workshops that take place throughout the year to build on knowledge gained through self-study and culminate in series of online assessments, which are now being integrated into to national qualifications such as NVQs.

In addition, the IOR are developing an e-learning project to expand into Europe. They will be translating the REAL Zero material into 5 different languages and are rapidly moving from work-book type assessment into a complete e-learning solution.

Read more about the Institute of Refrigeration (IOR).


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