Call to mining to update refrigerant systems

15th September 2017

While the majority of the mining industry use hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in its refrigerant systems, these ozone-depleting substances are set to be phased-out in accordance with the Montreal Protocol and Kigali Agreement.

While chlorofluorocarbons were used traditionally in the past, these were phased-out by the Montreal Protocol in the late 1990s, paving the way for the advent of HFCs. Now the Kigali Agreement is looking to the future phase-out of the latter, and their replacement with hydrofluoro-olefins (HFOs), the fourth generation of fluorine-based gases.

“When mines reach the stage of needing to invest in new refrigerant systems or to refurbish existing ones, our suggestion is to opt for the latest technology and move straight to HFOs, rather than the interim HFC stage, as this will prove much more cost-effective and environment-friendly in the long run,” A-Gas South Africa national sales manager Michael Labacher stresses.

A-Gas South Africa’s role in ensuring compliance in major industrial sectors, such as mining, encompasses a range of services and product offerings. A-Gas Health Check is an easy-to-use test kit packaged in a robust box, consisting of a refrigerant sample cylinder, an oil sample bottle and all the necessary hoses to take samples. A certificate of analysis is then supplied in compliance with the AHRI 700 standard, which stipulates the maximum contaminant levels permissible for reuse, without causing system damage.

“Mining is an arduous environment and application, especially in underground conditions. For example, a pipe may burst, resulting in refrigerant being contaminated with water. “A high moisture level will increase the acidity, which, in turn, will corrode the copper elements of the system, leading to the failure of motors and pumps and then the equipment in its entirety,” Labacher warns.

Therefore, it is recommended that mines conduct a refrigerant analysis at least once or twice a year. This is critical in terms of preventive maintenance, which will mitigate the breakdown of safety-critical equipment and the consequential impact on a mine’s productivity.

Since the establishment of A-Gas South Africa in 1996, the company has seen a steady increase in its involvement with the mining industry. “Especially with shafts being closed and mines decommissioned once they reach their end-of-life, it is imperative that systems be purged of all refrigerant, cleaned and rendered safe.” This refrigerant can then be sent to A-Gas South Africa to be returned to specification for reuse.

In terms of future developments, Labacher reveals that the company is looking to launch a new product to recover refrigerant out of systems far quicker to reduce downtime and boost the recovery rate. “What we are looking at is vacuum-sucking refrigerant out of a system straight into drums, which will eliminate the danger of any blow-off into the atmosphere. This will be far more environment-friendly, our mining customers will receive an improved service and we will be able to recycle the refrigerant in question.”