As well as not paying close attention to leak prevention, the shipping industry has a huge reliance on R404A but is largely unaware of the impending phase-outs in the EU or the increasing likelihood of similar action in the rest of the world.
Svenn Jacobsen, technical product manager refrigerants and refrigeration at Norwegian company Wilhelmsen Ships Service, says that shipowners are incurring unnecessary operating costs by not ensuring their onboard refrigeration units are leak-tight. The EU F-gas regulation will also introduce mandatory leak checks to the shipping industry for the first time.
“Testing for gas leaks is at the moment, a maintenance issue but the impact of leaks from land-based and ship sources has the attention of regulators. For shipping, this is about to become a compliance issue,” he says. “Before that happens, owners need to start paying attention because the future costs of compliance will far outstrip what owners are paying for these gases today.”
Already a number of European refrigerant suppliers have announced price increase of up to 20% on some of the high GWP refrigerants like R404A.
And the shipping industry is a huge consumer of R404A. According to Svenn Jacobsen, around 60% of the worlds 25,000-30,000 ships use R404A, with each ship using on average 200-300kg for its air conditioning and refrigeration systems.
While the F-gas regulation will initially only affect all EU countries and all ships flying the flag of an EU member state, Svenn Jacobsen points out that other countries are set to follow Europe’s lead.
“The US is watching and has already indicated that R404A will have limited availability after 2020. In late 2013, an agreement was made between US and India to support global phase-out of HFCs, so other countries are sure to follow,” he said.
CO2 systems have been tested but the most popular replacements are the HFOs and R32.
“One thing is for sure; these new refrigerants will be expensive. The days of easy availability, simple products and cheap prices will soon be history,” he says. “In order to maintain the same expenditure for refrigerants in the future, present leak rates will need to be reduced by some 50–90%.
“Owners could be spending a fraction of the costs they already incur recharging the system by simply keeping their systems leak-tight and this will only grow in importance. To some extent, the situation is exacerbated by a lack of technical knowledge onboard. Crew are far fewer, much busier and often less experienced than they were,” he says.
That lack of knowledge also extends to the shipbuilding sector where R404A is still being specified for ships even though it will be illegal on EU flag ships from 2020.
“Ask 10 shipyards what they recommend and you will find that very few have any idea,” says Jacobsen. “Not all of them have done their homework. Many will recommend R404A, which will lead to a costly retrofit before the ship is due for recycling.
“It’s very similar to the situation around the R22 phase-out: customers will continue to ask for it unless they know it is illegal.”
The immediate opportunity he says, is to improve maintenance routines and save money as well as increase environmental protection.
“For those who completed R22 retrofits and thought they could sit back and relax now, there is a new refrigeration-related challenge coming up very soon.”