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Seeing Red

Dr Giacomo Frigo, Managing Director, Sensitron, says infrared sensors constitute the real deal in terms of reliability, when it comes to accurately detecting refrigerant gas leakage, and of cost-effectiveness. Excerpts from the interview he gave to Surendar Balakrishnan…

| | Jul 29, 2020 | 1:07 pm
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Dr Giacomo Frigo

IN MOST PARTS OF THE WORLD, THERE IS A PRESSING NEED TO ADOPT REFRIGERANTS WITH LOWER GLOBAL WARMING POTENTIAL; IN THE CASE OF EUROPE, WHERE YOU HAVE THE F GAS REGULATION, YOU NEED TO BRING IT DOWN TO LESS THAN 500 GWP BY 2021. AND FOR THAT, THERE PERHAPS IS A NEED TO ACCEPT REFRIGERANTS THAT ARE FLAMMABLE OR TOXIC IN VARYING DEGREES. IS THIS WHERE YOU BELIEVE YOU STEP IN – TO BE ABLE TO OFFER SOLUTIONS TO SENSE ANY LEAKAGE?

Yes, correct. We have very good knowhow of the safety market, so are moving from O&G and industrial safety to take this technology to the refrigeration market. We have produced reliable detectors – to detect these new gases, we need to have one good reliable technology.

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU DO THAT MAKES YOU SAY YOUR DETECTORS ARE RELIABLE?

If there is a gas leakage, you have to consider the safety of the people. So, the detector needs to be reliable and according to some standard. And for this reason, in Europe and worldwide, we are discussing how to set up a new standard for the refrigeration market, and this includes releasing an ISO standard in Europe.

SENSORS NEED CONSTANT ATTENTION, INCLUDING RECALIBRATION AT LEAST ONCE EVERY SIX MONTHS, IF NOT THREE. COULD YOU EXPLAIN HOW INFRARED, ON WHICH YOUR TECHNOLOGY IS BASED, HELPS ADDRESS MAINTAINABILITY?

Our technology is not based on a chemical composition. There are some technologies that also detect the refrigerant, but the key point in the safety market is the need to recalibrate the detector or system every three or six months, because there is some standard about this. Now, in the refrigeration market, it is sometimes quite difficult and quite complicated to recalibrate, if the detector is placed inside the appliances – for instance, in a fan-coil unit or chiller. So, there is a demand or request to design something that does not require maintenance for a longer time. It would be easier to satisfy the demand with optical technology, like infrared, as there is no degradation, as would be the case with semiconductor or catalytic technologies. The second demand or request has to do with the safety of the people, because if there is some leakage – and now, we are talking about flammable or toxic properties – we need the detector to comply with safety standard. So, to summarise, we need a reliable technology and one where you do not require maintenance for a longer period.

BUT, COST-WISE, IS NOT INFRARED-BASED TECHNOLOGY MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE?

Infrared is five times the cost of other technologies, but in the future, I see millions of infrared detectors in the refrigeration market, so the economy of scale will become a factor. It is like the automobile industry; about 20 years ago, the cost of ABS and airbags was about 20% of the total value of the car, but today ABS and airbags are common features even in smaller cars. The volume brought the price down. I am expecting that in two or three years from now, maximum, the cost of infrared will be quite the same as a catalytic or electrochemical sensor.

WHAT IS THE UPTAKE OF INFRARED TECHNOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE EAST REGION, WHICH IS COST-SENSITIVE AND WHERE THE PREFERENCE IS TO GO FOR PRICE AS THE TOP KPI IN PURCHASING DECISIONS?

We have to remember that we need to consider only the sensing element, which bears most of the cost, but if you consider the lifecycle cost, it is low. In a hotel chain in America, they needed to put not only a smoke detector but also a refrigerant detector in every room. Subsequently, if you need to send a person to recalibrate the sensor in each and every room in the hotel every three months or every
six months, it is a cost. But, consider this – if you had installed an infrared sensor, the lifetime is 10-15 years; the lifetime of an electrochemical sensor is 2-3 years, which means there is a cost for installation every time you need to replace an electrochemical sensor. Combined with the fact that the price of the infrared sensor will be decreasing is the fact that the sensor does not need as much maintenance or recalibration as an electrochemical sensor, and so is more convenient and cost-effective. In the case of other sensors, refrigerant gases can influence the chemical in the sensors, which will affect their ability to detect in an accurate manner. An infrared optical sensor is not affected by the refrigerant gases. This is an important point, because the new generation of refrigerants – the HFOs – have fluorine in their composition, which affects semiconductor-based sensors. Infrared sensors are not affected, so this is an advantage with the technology.


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