F-gas Chiller Leak Testing

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.

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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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Large white chiller being inspected to compose a chiller maintenance schedule

Chiller Maintenance Schedule

The chiller maintenance schedule in essence is as follows:

  • What is the plant? According to the asset list for that particular contract.
  • What are we going to do with it? The checks, procedures and diagnosis in the pursuit of the maintenance of the chillers.
  • How often? The periodic maintenance schedule defining the required interval between visits to ensure seamless operation of the plant.

News Article No.5

Chiller N+1

N+1 is intrinsic in the development of a chiller maintenance schedule. N+1 means the amount of cooling required + the same amount again in parallel. It can also be represented as 2N. Two water system pumps are a good example: where the pipework splits in two- one pipe for each pump. When a pump fails, the redundant pump comes online. Chillers are arranged in parallel, in this way, on the water system. This redundancy allows for a stress free maintenance of the plant. The failed system can be rectified and brought back online while the redundant system takes the load.

Intervals of Chiller Maintenance Schedule

The intervals in the contract are influenced by the redundancy of the chillers on site. The less run hours the compressor does, the less maintenance is required. We at Maximus Chillers can tailor make a maintenance schedule exactly to your needs by looking at how much the chillers are used and how hard they work.

Load affecting Chiller Maintenance Schedule

For some applications, the chiller operates under a high load condition all the time, with a redundant system in standby. On other applications, the chiller works in minimal load conditions. Regardless of the load conditions, the chiller is critical to the cooling of buildings or for an industrial process.

Lead/ Lag of Chiller Maintenance Schedule 

An important thing to remember is to balance compressor run hours and bearing wear by rotating the lead/ lag duty of the chillers. This can usually be done in the in the sequencer (if fitted) by changing a program setting. Otherwise, the switchover controls can be changed on the off/hand/run toggle switches. Where manual changeover is required, the onsite engineers are usually conversant with the procedure concerning the water system pumps, valves and controls. During the maintenance, the stop checks can be carried out on the redundant system, while the run checks are carried out on the system which is online.

Chiller Maintenance Schedule for Recip Compressors

Recip compressors require a log of the compressor run hours. This is because the valves and bearings should be changed at pre prescribed intervals as laid down by the schedule. Particularly important to reciprocating compressors are regular oil changes and oil sampling- a small change in the result of an oil sample can prevent a serious compressor smash up. A check list including the model number and serial number is completed on each visit and kept in a file on site. This file can be consulted during diagnosis and maintenance to decide on the beast way forward with an on going issue.

Chiller Maintenance Schedule for Air Cooled Condensers

Air cooled condensers can often be looked after by the onsite engineers in between maintenance visits. Just a quick brush down every few months is usually all it takes. Where the environment lends to a type of contaminant being collected on the condenser coils, an effective chemical is selected from our stores and used on the coil. Where there is an issue with the serviceability of the condenser, we can put together a plan to keep on top of it. We can even retrofit a new condenser- it’s what we call the MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™

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Shell and Tube Evaporators

The shell is made from a heavy steel sheet rolled into a circle. The seam is welded together to form a cylinder. The tubes are pushed though the tube holders which are made from steel and are welded into the shell of the evaporator. The tubes are copper because of its good thermodynamic properties.

Direct Expansion Evaporators

Direct expansion is achieved in an evaporator with a thermostatic, or electronic expansion valve. The refrigerant enters the valve from the condenser as a high pressure, hot liquid. The pressure drop on the evaporator side of the valve makes the refrigerant flash off into a cold, saturation point liquid and vapour mix. The liquid boils off, absorbing latent heat through the inside of the copper tubes. On the outside of the copper tubes is the return water from the process, or the cooling of buildings.

The parts of the maintenance schedule that relate to DX evaporators are:

Oil Pooling

The inside of the tubes are in the clean environment of the fridge system. This means they do not become fouled. A tube insulating issue, however, can be caused on the inside by oil. If there are issues with the oil return system, the oil can pool in the evaporator. A low refrigerant charge can have the same effect. Written into the maintenance schedule are manual oil return and oil draining visits. During these visits, the monitoring of the refrigerant charge is also carried out.

Sensor Location

If a sensor is not located in its pocket correctly, or without sufficient heat transfer paste- it will read incorrectly back to the electronic expansion valve driver. This will cause the expansion valve to malfunction.

Pressurisation Units

A full maintenance of the pressurisation unit is carried out. This includes the pumps, controls and program adjustments as required. Incorrect pressure in the water system will cause a knock on effect of faults on the chillers.

Pump Sets

As above with chiller lead/ lag change over, water system pumps are manually changed over from lead to lag in the building controls. Carrying out this procedure reduces the chance of pump failure between visits. This is because it balances the pump run hours and so prevents bearing seizure after a long period not running.

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Flooded Evaporators

Flooded evaporators are the reverse of the above DX evaporators. The refrigerant is on the outside of the tubes, with water on the inside of the tubes. Gravity and refrigerant charge determine the refrigerant level in the condenser and evaporator. In between the two is located the liquid pipe with the orifice located in the pipe for the expansion of the refrigerant. The cooling water flows through the condenser tubes and off to the cooling towers. On the low side, the chilled water flows through the evaporator tubes and off to the process, or the cooling of facilities.

The parts of the maintenance schedule that relate to flooded evaporators are:

Tube Fouling

Because the condenser cooling water and chilled water systems are pumped through the pipes, the tubes become dirty over time. This occurs more often on the condenser as the water towers are open to atmosphere. Contaminants from surrounding buildings and factories gets into the water system and thermally insulates the tubes. This thermal insulation reduces the heat exchange through the copper tubes. The knock on effect is higher head pressures and eventually high pressure trip outs.

Specialist Cleaning Equipment

We at Maximus Chillers have in our stores the required equipment to carry out the cleaning of the tubes. Our engineers can attend site and liaise with the onsite engineers as regards the draining, strip down and lift out of the heat exchanger end plates.

Flushing Agents

A water sample is taken from the cooling and chilled water systems. These samples are sent off to our laboratory for analysis. Bacteria can build up in the water system causing slime- this can be rectified with a careful selection of chemical agents. Also, silt can build up- various chemicals are added to positively charge the silt and so carry it around the system to the strainer. Where the issue is caused by rust- an inhibitor can be added to prevent, or slow the oxidization of the steel.

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F-gas Testing of Leaks

The frequency of F-gas leak testing is determined by the size of the plant. This will be detailed in your F-gas file which is kept on site. Another record of this is kept by the chiller company at their registered office. The copies of the periodic leak testing sheets are kept by both parties. These detail the result of the test, refrigerant added to the system, refrigerant removed from the system and the required follow up actions. Some methods of leak detection are:

Visual Inspection

On each visit our engineers remove the coverings of the ends of the condensers and panels. This is to inspect the whole machine for a sign of a leak. Any potential leak is marked for future identification of where it is. A visual inspection will always be backed up with a further diagnosis such as:

Superheat and Subcooling

These readings are taken during a maintenance visit to determine the refrigerant charge of the chillers. The engineer, however, has to bear in mind that the subcooling and superheat readings can read abnormally due other reasons.

Bubble up Leak Spray

Various makes are available from the suppliers. Each engineer having his own preference. We at Maximus Chillers stock leak sprays and a wide selection of other materials.

Electronic Leak Detectors

Fixed

This type of leak detector is installed in the chiller low down in the panel. This is because HFC refrigerant is heavier than air. The leaking refrigerant will tend to pool in the bottom of the various panels around the chiller.

Portable

Each of our engineers carries a portable sniff tester. It comes with an extended tip to get into the most tight and awkward places. The leak detector has a replaceable element inside the unit. It also comes with replaceable tips which can be swapped out periodically. They come with a portable plug socket and transformer to charge the on board batteries after use in the field.

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Engineer carrying out process chiller service with yellow and black cylinder

Process Chiller Service

Maximus Chillers has just carried out process chiller service to a flooded evaporator. The refrigerant seal on a four bolt, flanged coupling had been found to be leaking liquid refrigerant. There was no possibility to valve off that section of the machine, as the flooded evaporator is the storage vessel for all of the charge of the system in its liquid phase.

Refrigerant Recovery during Process Chiller Service

Our high capacity refrigerant recovery unit was set up next to the machine to carry out the task. 55 kg of refrigerant was recovered in a short time into our recovery cylinder. This refrigerant was collected for recycling after the job was completed.

Stainless Steel

Our unit is made from stainless steel because this metal works well with ammonia.

Condenser for Process Chiller Service

The condenser is made from tubing which is connected to ‘u’ bends on either end. These ‘u’ bends send the condensing refrigerant back along the next tube in the opposite direction. This process, back and forth allows time for the refrigerant to condense into a liquid. Fins are pressed around the tubing to increase the surface area and help to dissipate more heat from the refrigerant. A condenser fan is fitted to suck the air through the fins and so reject the heat.

Reciprocating Compressor

A four cylinder reciprocating compressor is fitted to the unit to provide the pressure difference to pump the refrigerant into the above mentioned condenser. It has an air cooled electric motor fitted which is open drive. This is because ammonia would corrode the windings of the motor if a semi hermetic compressor were to be used. Semi hermetic meaning that the windings, stator and rotor of the motor would be internal to the system. The motor is fitted in the vertical position with the four cylinders opposing each other on the central crank shaft.

Controls for Process Chiller Service

For safety reasons controls are fitted to the unit. These include:

HP Switch

If the recovery cylinder were to become over filled, the pressure would build up to a dangerous level. The TARE and the ullage need to be calculated prior to the job to prevent this from happening. The below mentioned liquid pipes have been designed with pressure issues in mind, but somewhere on the system would be the weakest point. This would burst causing a catastrophic refrigerant leak. The whole charge of the machine and all the refrigerant in the recovery cylinder would leak to atmosphere. The HP switch is set by the engineer on site to the correct level given the ambient conditions. This takes into account the temperature of the refrigerant and the safe operating pressure of the vessel.

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Refrigerant Liquid Pipe

Steel Braided

The refrigerant in its liquid phase is pumped into the above mentioned unit down a steel braided liquid pipe. The steel braiding is to provide additional protection from the pipe being damaged on the outside. Damage like being driven over by a forklift truck, or having sharp objects coming into contact with it. Also, the braiding helps to prevent bursts when pressure builds up on the inside. This can be due to a restriction, malfunction of system components or vessel overfilling.

PTFE

The inner part of the pipe is PTFE. Other types of plastics and compounds corrode due to the toxicity of ammonia. Polytetrafluoroethylene is the chemical name for this compound, it is a fluorocarbon solid and is considered to be non reactive.

Fittings

There are various metric and imperial thread types that can be used. This depends on the fitting size on the machine and the fitting size and type going onto the recovery unit. We carry a wide range of fitting types to step down and step up in size. We can go between male to female types and use male to male and female to female where necessary. We carry adaptors to go from metric to imperial thread types.

Remote Access during Process Chiller Service

We carry an extensive stock of liquid pipes that can be connected end to end to provide remote access. We will always try to get the recovery equipment as near as possible to the plant, but when this cannot be achieved, we can arrange access up cat ladders or the side of a building. We can use our lift and shift team to arrange the hauling of all the required equipment and ancillaries to any location. Just part of what we call the MAXIMUS ADVANTAGEAny Chiller- Any Problem- Any Part- Any Refrigerant- Anywhere. Contact our office for prices for the above mentioned pipes.

Process Chiller Leak Service

The flanged coupling was unbolted and the failed refrigerant seal was removed. The new seal was fitted from our full range of sizes that we keep on the shelf in our stores. Our engineer bolted the flanged coupling back up to the correct torque setting.

Pressure Leak Test

A nitrogen pressure leak test was carried out to ensure the integrity of the system with the result being a pass.

Dehydration Process

As the system was open to atmosphere, air had got into the system which carries moisture content. The moisture and non condensables were removed down to a near perfect vacuum using one of our high capacity vacuum pumps.

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Charging of Refrigerant

The photo shows the charging of a cylinder of refrigerant into the system in its liquid phase. The cylinder has a dip tube fitted for ease of handling. Once the pressure in the system and the cylinder equalized, remaining refrigerant was drawn into the system during the operation of the plant.

Run Testing

The sight glasses and level glasses were found to be at the optimum level under the normal running conditions of the plant. As it is a flooded system, there was found to be a low superheat value. A high subcooling value was achieved with the use of a subcooler. Our engineer monitored a full cycle of an hour and a half: compressor temperatures and oil level were found to be within normal operating limits.

Remote Service Monitoring of Process Chiller

The process chiller can be remotely monitored via a data uplink through the internet. Our office continued to monitor the plant for some days as it went into seamless operation.

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Chilled water system repair of condenser to a silver chiller with blue compressors

Chilled Water System Condenser Repair

Chilled Water System Condenser Beyond Repair

The repair of the condenser was required on this chilled water system because the previous company had been chasing leaks round in a circle. Therefore, the customer had decided to buy a new condenser. This was our first job with a new contract, so we wanted to make a good impression.

Condenser Removal

There was no refrigerant in the system, so our engineer cut the discharge and liquid line to the condenser. He then removed the rivets so the frame could be taken apart. Lifting equipment was fitted to the old condenser to aid the removal. Then, slings were fitted and a forklift truck removed the old condenser.

Condenser Replacement

Our engineer supervised the condenser replacement. He found that the new condenser did not fit correctly. The new condenser was 5mm thicker than the old one. It was decided to lift it back out and angle grind the frame to make more room. Once this was completed, the new condenser fitted correctly and was bolted in place.

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Pipework Repair

The pipework had to be repaired and brazed in. Then, the standard practice of a pressure test to ensure the integrity of the system.

The Evacuation Process during Chilled Water System Condenser Repair

Having passed the pressure test, our engineer set up the vac pump and started the evacuation process. This is to dehydrate the system by pulling a vacuum of less than 2 Torr. Any moisture in the system will boil away and leave the system dry.

Recharge and Test Operation

The refrigerant is R410a. Our engineer put around half the charge in, then trimmed the remaining charge according to the superheat and subcooling values. He monitored the system for the rest of the day- looking for leaks as the plant was at operating pressures of 30 Bar. All was well, so the customer signed off the paperwork as he was pleased with the capability of our engineer.

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