UK: A major UK gas processing plant has been granted an exemption to continue using up to 35,100kg of reclaimed R22 refrigerant until July 2016.
While under European law the use of reclaimed R22 for servicing and maintaining equipment is banned from January 1 2015, the UK government has backed an application from ConocoPhillips to continue using R22 in its gas dewpointing plant at its Theddlethorpe gas terminal in Lincolnshire until the end of June 2016.
ConocoPhillips considers that the only viable option is to replace the current R22 system with one using flammable propane and the company argues that this cannot be completed before June 2016. With the plant supplying 8-9% of the UK’s gas demand, it was argued that an interruption in its operation could have a significant socio-economic impact.
The petrochemical industry is known to have a particular problem in finding a replacement for R22. Most use large quantities of the soon to be banned refrigerant in fully flooded refrigeration systems for the process of liquifying natural gas. The potential fluorocarbon replacements are all blends which, with their different constituent boiling points, are either completely unsuitable for this application or would, at best, be highly inefficient.
Hydrocarbons are the only likely current replacement option but this requires a completely new plant. In addition, while the air conditioning and refrigeration industry may have some concerns regarding the safety of mildly flammable HFOs and HFCs, the use of highly flammable propane in the middle of a gas plant poses particular risks.
ConocoPhillips is said to have begun the process of selecting a replacement for its purpose-built R22 refrigeration system in June 2007 and under normal circumstances an operator could have expected to have completed the conversion before 31 December 2014. However, it took until 2012 to identify that a propane-based system was the only option. The company argued that the specific characteristics of the plant and the technical and legal complexity, including related safety requirements, meant that an alternative to R22 was initially not available and that the alternative still cannot be used.
The choice of propane is thought to require significant capital modifications to the existing plant including the installation of new compression facilities, heat exchangers, associated storage units and control and safety systems.
Construction of a new refrigeration system has commenced but the UK government has backed claims that this cannot be completed before June 2016. In the meantime, the gas processor has been given permission to use up to 35.1 tonnes of R22 from January 1 2015 to June 30 2016.
Under the European Commission’s draft exemption agreement, ConocoPhillips will implement an enhanced leakage reduction programme and ensure that all remaining R22 at the end of the exemption period are recovered for reclamation and subsequent export, or for destruction.
ConocoPhillips declined to respond to questions from the Cooling Post, only saying: “As a matter of company policy ConocoPhillips does not discuss operational matters.”
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