Monthly Archives: April 2021

Nitrogen cylinder and regulator with gauges attached for f-gas chiller leak testing

F-gas Chiller Leak Testing

Regulations

The regulations for F-gas chiller leak testing have been devised to reduce the environmental impact of HFC refrigerants. They are standardised regulations which are implemented across Europe. Now that we have left the EU, we will continue to be aligned with these regulations.

News Article No.14

Leak Test Frequency Required

The frequency of leak tests depends on the type and quantity of the refrigerant. For example, a system which runs on R134a, the frequency is:
• once every 12 months for a charge less than 3.5 kg.
• once every 6 months for a charge less than 35 kg.
• once every 3 months for a charge less than 350 kg.
All of our maintenance schedules far exceed these minimum requirements. This is because our customers require maintenance visits more often to ensure the efficient running of their plant.

Static Leak Detectors

These leak detectors must be fitted to systems with more than 500 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. For the refrigerants most commonly used in chillers this is:
• R410a 239 kg
• R407c 282 kg
• R134a 350 kg

Global Warming Potential

The GWP numbers below represent the amount of greenhouse effect each refrigerant has, by comparison with an equal mass of carbon dioxide:
• R410a 2,088
• R407c 1,732
• R134a 1,300

Now we have had a look at some of the regulations, let’s have a look at a day in the life of our engineers here at Maximus Chillers. Read below for three different examples of leak testing carried out in the field…

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Pressure Testing Following a Leak

In the photo a leak has just been brazed on the condenser. It is recommended in the industry to use a steel braided line with a ¼ turn valve. This is so that if a nitrogen regulator malfunctions, it can be valved off, instead of a system being filled with bottle pressure from the cylinder. For a small system, this could cause a catastrophic explosion. We decided, therefore, to use a small cylinder which would expand into the large volume of the chiller. Should this fault occur, the safe working pressure would not be exceeded. This was taken into account when writing our Risk Assessment Method Statement. The pressure was built up in stages until the test pressure was achieved. This was recorded on our Pressure Test Certificate and witnessed by the customer. The result of the pressure test 4 hrs later was satisfactory and also witnessed by the customer.

Follow up Actions

A return visit was arranged 2 weeks later to leak test the chiller again. Our engineer carried out a visual inspection of all of the parts of the refrigerant pipework. He then used an electronic leak detector to see if it went into alarm. All was okay, so he completed the F-gas Certificate and left it in the customer’s file.

Routine F-gas Chiller Leak Testing during Maintenance

On another site, we look after 6 air cooled MW chillers in a row outside a building at a petrochemical facility. Our engineer ran the systems up, one at a time, to 100% so as to show up any refrigerant shortages. He was looking at the subcooling and superheat values. Two of the systems had poor readings which alerted his attention to a potential leak. On one of the systems, the poor readings were found to be caused by a faulty expansion valve. On the other, he diagnosed that the chiller was running short of refrigerant. He then carried out an inspection and found signs of a leak on a liquid pipe, just after the filter/ drier. The system was locked off with the refrigerant valves closed either side of the leak. This was to prevent the refrigerant from carrying on leaking to atmosphere. Then, he sent a report into Head Office detailing the estimated refrigerant addition needed to replace the refrigerant lost. Refrigerant removal was not needed as the area of the leak had been valved off from the rest of the system. He also detailed the materials required for the job and the necessary labour time that would be needed.

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Looking for a Leak

There are a variety of methods that can be used to identify the location of a refrigerant leak. Here are some examples…

Ultrasonic F-gas Chiller Leak Testing

An ultrasonic leak detector uses a microphone on the end of a wand. This is connected to a battery and processing pack, which is where headphones are plugged into. The sensitivity can be adjusted on the processing pack until a good working level is found. The various components on the chiller can then be inspected to find an audible sound of a leak.

Electronic F-gas Chiller Leak Testing

Otherwise known as a sniff tester, the electronic leak detector is one of the most popular types of leak detectors. The battery can be recharged via the cigar lighter in a car, or can be recharged back at the office with a transformer plugged into the mains. The heated diode sensor and the filter can fail or need to be replaced, so replacement parts are available. The instrument needs to be calibrated to a no refrigerant atmosphere, then it takes samples of the atmosphere being tested. It compares the two atmospheres and looks for a difference. Most electronic leak detectors work with all HFC refrigerants.

Bubble Up F-gas Chiller Leak Testing

There are a variety of bubble up leak detection sprays that are available off the shelf. At Maximus Chillers we make our own leak detection solution in our laboratory at Head Office. We mix two chemicals together in the correct proportions. This solution is carried in sprayer bottles in the boot of each of our company vehicles. When looking for a leak, our engineers use it around the suspected areas of a leak. It is the best form of leak detection that we know, as it can find the smallest of leaks, right up to large leaks which are audible to the ear.

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To read more about the f-gas chiller leak testing procedure hit the Tag at the top of the page.

Read more about checking F-gas equipment for leaks on the Government website | Click Here


Two blue open drive Vilter reciprocating chiller compressors being maintained in a plant room

Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Reciprocating chiller compressor maintenance for two low temperature ammonia chillers. Reciprocating means a forwards and backwards motion in a straight line. This is achieved by converting the circular motion of the crankshaft, into a linear motion using the connecting rods. The pistons are on the end of the con rods, which slide up and down inside the cylinder liners.

Piston Rings

There are two types of piston rings which are used:

Compression Ring

This is the upper ring and is designed to a high tolerance to prevent the refrigerant vapour from bypassing the piston.

Oil Ring

This is the lower ring and is designed to regulate the oil flow around the piston.

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Cylinder Head

The cylinder head is usually cast iron and serves as a pressure plate. It holds the valve gear and has passageways for the suction and discharge of the refrigerant. The discharge pressure varies according to the kind of refrigerant and application. For a 0°C saturation it can be as low as 7 bar on R134a, or as high as 30 bar on R410a. The discharge temperature is usually around 60°C to 80°C which is recorded on our detailed Tick Sheet during the maintenance.

Valve Gear

Helix springs or reeds are popular with this type of compressor. Wave springs are another design that can be seen in operation on our YouTube channel. The video uses a cut away view and the oil is depicted in yellow. These springs control the suction (intake) and the discharge (exhaust) of the refrigerant…

Suction

The suction valves have the least amount of failures because the refrigerant is cool, low pressure and is carrying oil.

Discharge

The discharge valves, however, can have heavy molecules of hydrocarbons collect on them in the form of carbon. This causes them to not seat correctly, resulting in a deterioration of compressor performance. The difference in pressure between suction and discharge, otherwise known as the compression ratio, is a check that we carry out during the maintenance. The pressure and temperature is higher on the discharge valves, so more stress is exerted on to them. Therefore, they have a reduced lifespan by comparison to suction valves.

Top Dead Centre

The piston needs to come as close as possible to the cylinder head to create the largest amount of compressed refrigerant. This is called the clearance space which is usually less than 0.5 mm.

Discharge Header Safety Spring

This spring is fitted into the cylinder head and allows the valve gear to lift when:
• Liquid refrigerant slugs back to the compressor due to poor heat exchange in the evaporator.
• An oil slugging condition occurs.
• Water is drawn around the system from a burst condenser or evaporator.
As a compressor cannot compress a liquid, the valve gear lifting prevents an expensive compressor smash up from occurring.

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Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance of Shaft Seal

The compressors in the photo are open drive. Each has a shaft seal which has two, mirror finish rubbing surfaces. One seal turns with the crankshaft and the other is stationary. We check the amount of oil that is seeping from the shaft seal on every visit. When we notice that the level in the oil bottle is too high, we arrange a visit to change the shaft seal. This can be done without disruption to your process, as the other compressors can be left running while we carry out the work.

Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance of Drives

This kind of compressor is usually driven by an in line electric motor, as in the photo. It can also be driven by ‘v’ belts from an electric motor which is located to the side of the compressor. The ‘v’ belts are checked during the visit to see if there are any cracks on the inside working surface. We replace these with the pre ordered spares that are on site at no extra charge. They are then re tensioned according to standard industry guidelines.

Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance of Crankcase

This is a cast iron housing that all of the above components fit into. It provides the necessary support and strength for the compressor to operate at its high temperatures and pressures. The crankcase heater keeps the oil at operating temperature during the off cycles. It is usually a bore type which pushes into a hole in the casting. We check for the correct operation of the crankcase heaters and replace them where necessary. This is another spare that is kept on site, so that a return visit is not needed.

Service Ports

These bolt on to the compressor crankcase. They can be positioned in various directions, depending on which way the suction and discharge pipes go. The compressor can be valved off when it is being worked on. These ports are used by engineers to attach their gauges during the maintenance. On each visit, we check the calibration of the system pressure transducers by checking them against our gauges.

Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance of Oil Pump

This is a gear type pump which is fitted to the end of the compressor crankshaft. The pump sucks the oil through a filter from the sump of the compressor. Then, it is discharged from the pump, down the crankshaft passageways to the connecting rods. From here it travels up the con rod passageways and out through the pistons to the cylinder liners. Here, it provides the essential lubrication between the pistons and the liners. According to the maintenance schedule, we periodically change the oil filters to ensure the optimum running conditions of your compressors.

MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™

If a compressor smash up occurs and the compressor is found to be obsolete- don’t worry. We can adapt the compressor mountings and the pipework for a different compressor. This is part of what we call The MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™ Any Chiller- Any Problem- Any Part- Any Refrigerant- Anywhere.

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Boxed, shell and tube chiller condenser being lifted into a building with a crane

Chiller Condensers

Shell & Tube

The chiller condenser on a 2 MW centrif we look after had deteriorated over a long period of time. We had carried out tube cleaning and noticed that it had been extensively repaired in the past. There were a lot of damaged tubes that had been blanked off. This had reduced the useful surface area for heat exchange to occur. The chiller was experiencing a ‘discharge limiting’ condition which was causing it to back off to 54% capacity.

Air Cooled

Because of the difficulty to remove and replace the condenser from the plant room, the customer had explored the possibility of air cooled condensers. His idea was to fit the discharge and liquid piping up the side of the building and into the plant room. After considering this possibility, we decided to advise him against using air cooled condensers because it would take two, 16 fan ‘V’ types. This would have a footprint too big for the available space. We decided to use a crane to lift out the old condenser, then lift in the new one.

Pump Out

The old condenser was valved off from the rest of the system and the refrigerant was pumped into an 800 kg recovery vessel. This was one of 2 vessels in the plant room that had been there since the chiller was new.

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Lift Out for Chiller Condensers

The pipework was unbolted and the ancillaries removed. When it came to unbolting the condenser, some of the bolts were seized due to a long period of rusting. Some of them came loose by heating them with oxy-acetylene, the others were ground off with an angle grinder. We used a specialist lifting company to shift the condenser from the plant room and out to the lifting bay. They then attached slings to one end, manoeuvred that end of the condenser to the outside of the building, then attached slings to the other end. Rather them than me! Quite a dangerous operation, but it had been assessed when composing their Risk Assessment Method Statement. The condenser was lifted onto the back of an articulated truck and taken to a scrap yard for recycling. There was quite a lot of copper inside- so our customer got quite a good weigh in!

Lift In for Chiller Condensers

The new condenser, in the photo, was kept in its packaging during the lift up, so as to protect it from damage. Once it was in the building and near to the plant room, it was removed from the box and shifted the rest of the way with dollies. There was some difficulty getting it into its final location. This was because the old steelwork had to be cut back with a blow torch to make the new condenser fit. Also, with limited room and no gantry crane, the lifting company had their work cut out to manoeuvre it. Eventually, it was in location and we decided to call it a day.

Adapting the Pipework

This particular condenser was selected because it was similar in dimensions to the old one. The positioning of the refrigerant and water system pipework was similar too. That said, it was not an exact match. We called an industrial plumbing and welding company in to make the changes we needed. They measured up and built adaptors to bolt in between the condenser and the water system pipework. They cut back the new condenser discharge connection and welded a new flange on. This was so it could be bolted onto the existing discharge elbow from the chiller. The liquid pipe connection on the new condenser was in the same location, but came with a different thread. Therefore, this too was cut back and an adaptor fitting was welded into place.

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Ancillaries

The fittings on the new condenser were BSP and the fittings on the chiller were Flare. We carry an extensive range of fittings that go between BSP and Flare. We can go from male to female, female to male, male to male and female to female. We can step up and step down in size too. Using these fittings, we attached the high pressure switch and high pressure transducer. The wires for the liquid and discharge temperature sensors were extended. This was so they could reach the location of the pockets that were built into the new condenser. Then, we used a special heat transfer paste to get a good transmission of heat in between the sensors and the pockets.

F-gas Pressure Test

We then carried out a strength test and a pressure test in accordance with F-gas guidelines. This was witnessed at the beginning and at the end by the customer. A satisfactory outcome was achieved, so on to the next phase of the job…

Dehydration of Chiller Condensers

We needed to dehydrate the system and remove the nitrogen that was used in the pressure test. This is because nitrogen is a non condensable which will affect system performance. Our powerful vacuum pump was set up, then we left it running overnight. A 1.5 Torr vacuum was achieved, which was the same pressure as when the Torr gauge was fitted directly on to the vacuum pump.

Open the Valves and Test

After removing the vacuum pump, the recovered refrigerant was pumped back in, then the discharge and liquid valves were opened back up. Then, our engineer had a good look round for leaks. I know it had just been pressure tested, but we think it’s always a good idea to check again. This done, the water system pumps were started and the water temperature showed at 23°C on the controller. The set point for the chilled water was 6°C so this warm water was helpful as it gave us plenty of load to carry out the testing. The chiller went through a timer and then started up. It loaded steadily up to 100% with no dramatics- splendid!

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