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All about refrigerant leakage

What is leakage and why does it matter?


Paul Hawken's Drawdown ranks refrigeration as the #1 global drawdown opportunity, based on the total amount of greenhouse gases it can potentially avoid or remove from the atmosphere.


Bill Gates' How to Avoid a Climate Disaster calls F-Gases used in traditional AC and refrigeration "extremely powerful contributors to climate change".


John Kerry called the international Kigali deal executed in 2016 to address the global problem of F-Gases "the biggest thing we can do [on climate] in one giant swoop."


But why are F-Gases such a problem in the first place? LEAKAGE.


Refrigerants leak through distributed systems


Whether in production, during use, or at disposal, refrigerants leak into the atmosphere. How does that happen during use? Take a standard supermarket refrigeration system for example. Supermarket systems are typically made up of distributed sets of equipment scattered throughout the store.


Think of the last time you were at a grocery store. Where were the refrigerated cases located? The produce was probably on one outside wall of the store. Your cold milk and cheeses were 300 feet away on another outside wall; meat and seafood were somewhere in the back, and frozen foods cases were in aisles in the middle. Now picture hundreds of feet of piping carrying refrigerants to and from these cases with joints, fittings, and connections – all constantly leaking.


Refrigerant leakage is dangerous


The most common grocery refrigerant, R-404a, causes global warming at 3,922 times the rate of carbon dioxide. While precautions at disposal are critical, the average supermarket system leaks more than 25% a year into the atmosphere. That means the entire store’s worth of refrigerant leaks into the atmosphere in less than 4 years.


Refrigerant leakage is costly


What happens when it leaks? The maintenance contractor refills it with more refrigerant, and it keeps leaking. Even if refrigeration contractors dispose of refrigerant appropriately when systems are changed out or decommissioned, the full system’s charge of refrigerant will have already leaked many times over before this can even happen.


This is for well-maintained refrigeration equipment. Imagine the impact on your neighbor’s “I’ll maintain it when it breaks” AC unit or your local office building’s “wait we have something on the roof?” forgotten rooftop unit


Leakage solutions


Yes, we get it. Refrigerant leakage is bad. What do we do about it? There are several commercial solutions, ranging from installing leak detection systems, to refrigerant leakage tracking software, to aggressively pursuing repairs in high-leak locations. But, even under the best circumstances, leakage continues to be a problem.


The most effective way to stop the damage from refrigerant leakage is to switch to a refrigerant that does minimal damage when it leaks because it WILL leak.


Think that sounds expensive? Let’s talk. We can help.