By Robert Chesters, Managing Director, Oceanic Technical Solutions
For decades Refrigerant has been regarded by many in the Marine industry as a consumable gas with the topping up of the plant seen as part of the routine maintenance plan; but this is somewhat of a fallacy that appears only to favour the refrigerant manufacturers, costing ship operators dearly – and not only in refrigerant consumption.
What we at Oceanic Technical Solutions are trying to instill is something of a culture change across the industry. We really want to change the way in which ship operators and managers consider the marine refrigeration plant; after all the principle of the plant is pretty much the same as a domestic refrigerator at home – a closed system that should not need to be constantly topped up. For instance, you don’t have to constantly top up the fridge at home, so changing the misconception that the shipboard plant is an entirely different beast is a key objective for us.
Of course the environment in which the marine refrigeration plant operates with high levels of vibration and a corrosive atmosphere will inevitably result in loose fittings, holed pipework, worn gaskets and refrigerant leaks, but if the system is correctly designed, regularly inspected and leak checked there should be no need to be spending thousands of dollars on refrigerant.
The true cost refrigerant leakage does not only relate to the topping up of refrigerant. Refrigerant loss leads to much bigger implications on whole ship performance, increased energy consumption, shorter maintenance intervals, compressor failure and crew welfare. Crew welfare is an interesting one in that should the air conditioning unit fail to function properly, higher ambient temperatures will affect crew performance, temperament, fatigue and increase their susceptibility to illnesses.
Refrigerant loss also has a direct impact on fuel consumption as more energy is required to compensate for the refrigerant shortfall. Our team of inspectors regularly report that shipboard staff are running refrigeration plant with only 50% charge, which many operators believe is way of limiting the impact of increased refrigerant loss due to leaks and system faults and reduce costs. This is a false economy as running plant undercharged has a direct impact on the oil carrying capabilities for the plant, oil is critical to the smooth operation of a refrigeration plant and it is a common misconception that oil is consumed by the plant. Oil is carried around the plant by the refrigerant and if the charge is too low oil will not carry well and get trapped in evaporators or condensers and not carry back to the compressor. This results in increased energy consumption, increased cool down time, increased wear on main system components and in some cases premature compressor failure. In the long term this proves a very costly exercise and increases significantly the amount of lubricating oil the systems needs, increases compressor wear and overhaul intervals.
For many technical managers the refrigeration plant currently falls low on the list of priorities when planning a dry-dock but we would like to see the refrigeration plant raised up the priority list as a ship critical system. Currently it is way down the pecking order in terms of investment in performance optimisation
This is likely to change and quite quickly as the stringent EU Regulations on Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases (F-Gas) 217/2014 enter in to force in 2020. Shipowners that fail to make their plants gas-tight will find operating costs of their refrigeration plant rocket. Refrigeration will become more of a compliance issue as owners become mandated to reduce refrigerant leak rates – as much as 90% in some cases. And this will mean regular leak testing and greater preventative maintenance measures are required.
ABOUT OCEANIC TECHNICAL SOLUTIONS
Supported by nearly three decades of experience within the marine refrigeration sector, Oceanic Technical Solutions was established in 2014 to provide high quality refrigeration service, inspection, compressor overhauls, spare parts and refrigerant retrofits to all kinds of vessels on a global scale. Having not only developed internationally renowned expertise from decades of working for Wilhelmsen Ship Service and other world leading refrigeration organisations, the UK headquartered company has also earned a thorough understanding of its customer’s business concerns.
A key aspect of the company’s service portfolio is refrigeration inspections with the aim of driving down refrigerant consumption and introducing a preventative plant maintenance ethos, which is focused on helping customers deal with the next phase of environmental laws and regulations with regards to refrigerant gases. Since the phase out and complete ban of CFC Refrigerants more than a decade ago, and subsequent ban on HCFC refrigerants such as R22 from January 2015, attention has shifted towards HFC Gases with particular focus on high global warming potential (above GWP 2500).
In addition to its refrigeration plant optimisation programme, which has benefitted a number of shipowners, including London Ship managers, NYK Line and MOL LNG, Oceanic Technical Solutions offers a complete compressor overhaul and exchange service in order to prevent plant downtime, lost provisions and, in some cases, lost cargo and off hire charges.
With specialists available in strategic locations, Oceanic Technical Solutions provides schedules and guidelines for overhauling even the most complex screw and reciprocating compressors. This service includes a complete strip down and clean of the compressor as well as a thorough check for damage; following this, all tolerances are recorded and checked in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations.
Oceanic Technical Solutions has also used its expertise and knowledge of complex marine refrigeration systems to develop a complete solution for a range of multi-brand spare parts and accessories. Furthermore, if the required product is no longer available, Oceanic Technical Solutions is able to offer an alternative solution.