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VIDEO: Learning about Smarter Refrigerant Management with Trakref

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Posted by: Rate It Green Team


This interview with Tedd Atwood of Trakref and Matt Hoots is a must listen for building owners and operators/managers.  Managing refrigerants better will save money and energy and equipment life. It’s really worth everyone understanding more about refrigerants and refrigerant leaks, as the problem is bigger than most of us are aware.  

The extent to which refrigerant is poorly managed and tracked is really surprising, given that these products affect operations costs and energy bills, to say nothing about environmental impact.  As a part of HVAC or refrigeration systems, refrigerant helps transfer heat out of our built environment to make it cooler.  But as Ted explains, we don’t have a good grasp on what’s happening to refrigerants in their service life, as invoices are often used as an imperfect measure of accounts and impact.  

Would you believe that refrigerants leak the same amount now as they did about 26 years ago, at about 25%, with the presumption that all refrigerants produced eventually look or assumed to have leaked - meaning “where they end up going" isn’t tracked)?  This means that of 600 million pounds of inventory removed or lost each year, 450-500 million pounds is just lost, after accounting for refrigerant transferred to new equipment. 

Trakref’s software provides the maintenance team with an effective way to communicate the information building management needs to track leak rates and make informed repair and replacement decisions.  The process begins with great asset  records and history and continues with accurate information throughout the life of refrigerant-using equipment.  Top clients include grocery stores, data centers, commercial properties, hospitals, and hotels.  Trakref employs activity tracking in place to supplement the information on invoices - With a 2 minute questionnaire, service providers help bring visibility to leak rates so service companies and building owners and managers have the information they need to make critical refrigerant management decisions.  The process is easy so that service providers are set up for success in the middle of a busy schedule.   

Most often, related equipment decisions have been made base on historical costs to repair - but this process can be misleading and often allows for avoidable expense and errors.  Declining refrigerant costs led for many years to false assumptions that systems were “working,” even as they kept leaking at the same rates.  Additionally, data might be provided quarterly instead of within hours and days.    

Why do refrigerant leaks matter?  From an environmental perspective, refrigerants have what is known as a high GWP, or global warming potential, a measure of the destructive potential of a climate pollutant.  It’s important to understand that refrigerants today are often many multiples time more polluting than carbon dioxide, with a GWP set to 1.  Today’s most common refrigerant has a GWP of almost 2000 times that of carbon dioxide, to give some perspective.  One tank of R-22 refrigerant is equivalent to the annual fuel for 7 cars, and R404A, another refrigerant, is equivalent to 14 cars.*  Refrigerants also come with the risk of contamination, which happens when oil of moisture enters the system, or when 2 refrigerants are accidentally mixed together.  Reducing leaks and proper reclamation techniques are top ways to keep these refrigerants from impacting the climate and causing other environmental damage.  

Reducing refrigerant leaks also makes a great deal of financial sense.  According to Ted, there are 3 top areas of financial impact due to refrigerant leaks:

  • Increased Maintenance Expenses: Pretty clearly, more leaks mean more maintenance. 
  • Additional Energy Expenditures:  There is apparently a 1/1 correlation between refrigeration leaks and energy consumption.  This literally means that 25% leak rates mean that 25% more energy is expended due to the leak.
  • Reduced Equipment Life:  Leaks tax equipment and both lower efficacy and life expectancy.  


Additional challenges Ted describes makes sense once he shares them but might be surprising to building professionals who don’t work directly with refrigerant (and might be familiar or not to those who do): 

  • With poor records, building owners and managers often do not know with 100% accuracy what systems and refrigerants they have.
  • Even something like faded equipment labels can cause problems, even in relatively new equipment, as operators and owners might literally not know the proper type of refrigerant to use (leading to increased contamination risk)
  • Without information, operators can even be wasting money trying to maintain equipment that is already in an obsolete stare. 


Ted reports that the COVID-19 crisis is not surprisingly bringing more attention to air filters. A client survey revealed that 70% of building operators report that they do not think filters get changed out at the optimal time, and that the resulting contained systems have higher leak rates and are running at increased stress, which can result in clogged filters, lower system charges, and frozen coils, in addition to other problems.  Trakref added filter tracking to the company’s software to help with this critical maintenance concern.  

One way to think of these refrigerant and related problems are that the “lungs of the building are often not getting adequate resources to function properly.”  Ted’s bottom line?  “What comes out of the box doesn’t mean it’s what you’re getting.”  Builders and building operators have to install properly, change filters, manage refrigerant to get the stated and expected efficiency/performance of the product.   

For decades, it might not have been as clear when systems are leading, especially without penalties and operations and energy people who might not have been communicating optimally.  A problem that might not be clear with maybe a 10% leak will suddenly be very clear in extreme weather situations, when the system suddenly seems not to be performing.  And then it’s time to triage, which likely means a more drastic repair or replacement and a greater expense.  With today’s tracking ability and technology, improved communications, and a greater emphasis on managing energy and appliances, refrigerant becomes a more obvious KPI for building operators.  

According to Ted, a lot more awareness and education is key, especially when we’re talking about a vented product you can’t see like some tangible widget.  We agree that refrigerant leaks can and should be a “more sexy topic!”  We hope you enjoy and learn from this interview.  Add your questions and opinions below! 

 

 

*Additional source:

California Air Resources Board

Reply
SawHorse, Inc.
3 Ratings 18 Discussions 2 Group posts

SawHorse, Inc.

Refrigerant management is complicated yet simple at the same time. We don't really need to have a PH. D in chemical engineering to solve this issue. It really comes down to tracking the refrigerant AND making sure the service techs and installers understand the important or minimizing how much escapes from the controlled system.

 

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