What makes a good PICV?

by Andrew Pender, National Sales Manager at FloControl Ltd.

Over the last 5 years, PICVs have been widely accepted as the best method of terminal control in variable flow systems due to their energy saving potential.  The surge in popularity has led to an influx of products with varying designs, features and functionality.  This article reviews some of the mechanical PICV design elements and how they can impact on the PICV’s performance in an applicational context.

Where do we start?

To help specifiers and project engineers assess which PICV is best suited for an application, the BSRIA BTS1/2019 standard has been developed to provide a consistent test method for PICV manufacturer’s products to be benchmarked against.

Manufacturers should be able to provide test results in line with this technical standard which covers:

  • measured flow vs nominal flow
  • pressure independency or flow limitation
  • control characteristics, both linear and equal percentage
  • seat leakage test

Repeatability & Accuracy are central to the tests and they are key to good temperature control and realising the full energy saving potential of a PICV installation.

An accurate PICV means the measured results will be equal or very close to the manufacturer’s published nominal flow rate each time it is measured, known as low hysteresis.

Accuracy has a positive impact on a building’s energy consumption.  “Measured over time, a 1% increase in the accuracy of a PICV can result in a reduction of around 0.5% in the building’s overall hydronic energy consumption” (FlowCon International).

Valve accuracy is driven by the design, manufacturing process and material used for the internals of the valve.

  • The design of the PICV should allow for Full Stroke Modulating Control at all flow settings without any stroke limitation.  The flow setting and temperature control components should operate independently.  Some PICV designs use the stroke of the actuator stem to set the flow rate resulting in limited stroke and control.  This can cause issues at low flow rates whereby the PICV effectively becomes on/off irrespective of actuator selection.  
  • The manufacturing process and the component materials also contribute to accuracy. For example, injection-moulded, glass-reinforced composite materials cope better with water conditions that valves can be exposed to.  They also have less material shrinkage than other materials, delivering higher accuracy than valves that use alloy components.

What else should be considered?

The importance of accuracy and repeatability are paramount when selecting a PICV however there are other factors that should be considered:

  • Wide flow rate range – including low flow rates for heating applications, ideally covered by a small number of valves.
  • Setting the flow rate – setting the PICV can influence the accuracy. There are various scales used including set points related to flow rates and percentages. PICVs with very detailed scales with small increments between set points are more difficult to set accurately, leading to higher tolerances than the BSRIA standard recommended + 10%.
  • Wide ΔP Range – low start up pressure. To operate satisfactorily, the PICV requires a minimum pressure differential to overcome the initial spring resistance within the PICV, enabling the spring to move and take control. Care should be taken to ensure the minimum pressure differential is as low as possible to maximise the energy saving potential of the system.  The maximum DP should also be considered to ensure the PICV operates effectively under part load conditions.
  • Dirt tolerance – the Valve Control Opening Area [A] on all PICVs, irrespective of the manufacturer, is identical for each flow rate. The shape of the Control Area can be different depending on the valve design. A Rectangular flow aperture is more tolerant than an Annular flow aperture. Debris will pass through the rectangular aperture more easily.
  • Removable inserts – deliver the greatest flexibility and serviceability.  Products can be easily serviced in line without disruption. This is especially of value when water quality is poor or when flow requirements change due to changes in space usage.  Inserts can also be removed during flushing.  Valve bodies can be installed with blank caps eliminating the risk of damaging or contaminating the PICV element, whilst having a full-bore flushing capacity.
  • Installation – PICVs in general have no installation restrictions however in line with BSRIA BG29/20, it is recommended that PICVs should be installed in the return branch as small bore PICVs will have a high resistance which will hinder the flushing velocity during the forward flushing of terminal units.

Making the right choice

There are many aspects for specifiers and project engineers to consider when selecting the right PICV for an application.  The BTS1/2019 standard provides an excellent benchmark, but the individual designs also need to be carefully considered.  A correctly selected PICV will ultimately lead to a more comfortable indoor climate with better control of the space heating and cooling as well as potentially reducing the pump energy consumption in a building by up to 35%.

This post was authored by Andrew Pender, National Sales Manager at FloControl Ltd. All views expressed are those of the author. If you belong to a BSRIA Member company and wish to contribute to the BSRIA Blog, please contact marketing@bsria.co.uk

Shift in Construction Technology for a ‘post-Covid, pre-vaccine’ era

by Amy Butler, JB Associates

In 2017, McKinsey Global Institute slated construction for evolving at a ‘glacial pace’ due to its ranking as the least-digitised industry in Europe. While plenty of technological advances were pitted as ‘on the horizon’, many companies were reluctant to take the necessary steps to push forward with digitisation. Critics warned that a lack of innovation would lead to companies folding, although it took a global pandemic before this prophecy materialised and those without suitable digital infrastructure in place were shaken.

The pandemic is now considered a catalyst for industry improvement, propelling construction out of its ‘glacial’ evolution and deep into the digitised era. A recent study undertaken by Procore found that two thirds of the surveyed construction companies had rolled out new technology during the lockdown, with 94% of these seeing an improvement to productivity and teamwork. However, what exactly are these technologies and where do we go from here?

Smart Buildings

While we are all now experts in the world of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, the challenge lies in returning safely to offices and various other workspaces. With many UK companies pushing for their teams to be back in work physically, how do we ensure that commercial buildings remain safe? Smart Building technology is reshaping the workplace and ensuring safety as well as energy optimisation. Buildings with integrated BMS systems and IoT sensors were already an option before the pandemic. Now, they are a wise choice for business owners.

Essential for a post-Pandemic and pre-Vaccine era, IoT systems can control air quality and ventilation. High-performance air filters and moisture controls will now be key due to Covid-19’s airborne nature. OKTO Technologies (Smart Buildings specialists) have even launched an Artificial Intelligence-led air filtration solution that is reportedly so advanced it can eliminate 99.98% of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) from the air in 10 minutes.

Similarly, density control counters and heat detection cameras can be incorporated into BMS systems to ensure that viruses are less likely to spread or enter into a facility. Airports have been trialling infrared cameras to measure body temperatures for a fever and several companies offer leases or installations for these cameras. While they are not a definitive medical diagnosis, they add a level of reassurance. This may be the aim of much of this technology; a form of due diligence in protecting staff.

BIM & VR

Technological advances are also prominent on site. Construction News reported that contractors employed for the Nightingale Hospital projects found huge value in Autodesk programs. A vital tool for tracking constant streams of updates in rapid working conditions, construction management software proved its worth in recognisably challenging projects across the UK.

As social distancing measures remain in place, it is imperative that technology is prioritised; virtual communication is still far safer than face-to-face. Software like BIM is also providing insights and tools to manage projects during a more challenging time. Even more impressively, companies are merging BIM models with the cloud, GPS and Virtual Reality software. This development means a ‘digital twin’ of a facility can be created and it opens a world of opportunities for Project Management and Design efficiency.

Remote working could even be a trend that stays long past pandemic precautions. Drones have been used previously to reduce safety hazards for technicians and now may be utilised in future remote inspections. Similarly, researchers at the University of Strathclyde have been given £35,000 in funding to create a remote inspection system. The 3D immersive building environment program aims to reduce risks by eradicating the need for Quantity Surveyors or Health and Safety Inspectors to be physically present on site.

Whether enabling remote working, improving the health and safety of commercial buildings or aiding on-site processes, technology has become a necessary tool for construction in the last 6 months. The companies that had embraced digitisation long before 2020 were undoubtedly the ones able to continue thriving in the tough lockdown period. The next step is for many companies is to streamline their management processes or workplace systems to ensure technology works for them as efficiently as possible. Breaking out of its inertia, construction’s ‘glacial evolution’ is firmly in the past and technological advances are here to stay.

This post was authored by Amy Butler of JB Associates – building consultancy specialists. The views expressed are those of the author.

BSRIA Members wishing to make a guest contribution to the BSRIA Blog should please contact marketing@bsria.co.uk

The selection criteria of refrigerants

Salim Deramchi, Senior Building Services Engineer at BSRIA

Salim Deramchi, Senior Building Services Engineer at BSRIA

This is part two of a three part series from Salim. You can read part 1 here

There is no general rule governing the selection of refrigerants, however there are of course the five classic criteria and those are:

  • thermophysical properties
  • technological
  • economic aspects
  • safety
  • environmental factors

However, in addition to these criteria, others have to be considered such as local regulations and standards as well as maintainability and ‘cultural’ criteria associated with skills to support the units, application, and user training requirements.

The best approach when presenting evolution and trends is certainly the per-application approach. The desirable characteristics of “ideal” refrigerants are considered to be:

  1. Normal boiling point below 0°C
  2. Non-flammable
  3. Non-toxic
  4. Easily detectable in case of leakage
  5. Stable under operating conditions
  6. Easy to recycle after use
  7. Relatively large area for heat evaporation
  8. Relatively inexpensive to produce
  9. Low environmental impacts in case of accidental venting
  10. Low gas flow rate per unit of cooling at compressor

The choice of alternative refrigerants should involve a review of recycling or disposal of refrigerants. You must decide which criteria for the ideal refrigerant is of most importance to your organisation. It must be considered that the operation phase is the key factor when determining the environmental impact of the various refrigerants as there is less impact to the environment in the production and disposal stages. As an example, supermarket retailers are steadily moving away from long-established HFC refrigeration systems.

Decision making for new refrigeration plant using refrigerant alternatives such as ammonia, CO2 or hydrocarbons, which have comparatively little or no impact on global warming and zero impact on ozone layer, should consider not only the impact on the environment but the additional required skills to maintain (Ko Matsunaga).

You can  find out more information in BSRIA’s library

Refrigeration Part 1 – Choosing the right refrigerant

Salim Deramchi, Senior Building Services Engineer at BSRIA

Salim Deramchi, Senior Building Services Engineer at BSRIA

Refrigerants are a key component for air conditioning and refrigeration. Since the 19th century there have been many refrigerants developed and used but none of them has as yet become the industry standard.

As an industry we should not consider reducing F-Gas emissions as just complying with legislation to meet government set targets, but reducing them will also have a positive effect on operating costs.  We can make cost savings through efficient operation and we can also help enhance market reputation by being more environmentally friendly.

To have a good understanding of this we need to look at:

  • Available refrigerant types
  • Our selection criteria
  • How we evaluate the available refrigerants

Traditionally commercial businesses have been using R12, a CFC, and R502a CFC/HCFC. In addressing the ozone depletion problem, most manufacturers have adopted either R404A a HFC blend or R134a. However, both are potent greenhouse gases (Nicholas Cox).

So the industry needs to look at future solutions which might be natural refrigerants, although some design change might be required on the equipment used. The following refrigerant replacements all require system and operational changes to current practice:

20140213_132647_resizedIsobutane (R600A) is a hydrocarbon , and hence is flammable. The thermodynamic properties that are very similar to those of R134a. Isobutane presents other advantages, such as its compatibility with mineral oil and better energy efficiency and cheaper than that of R134a. The use of isobutane requires minimal design changes, such as the relocation of potential ignition sources outside of the refrigerated compartment. Operational changes will also be required.

Propoane (R290). With a boiling point of -42C, propane is an excellent alternative to R22 as it requires similar working pressures. An added advantage is that except for added safety measures because of its flammability, virtually no design change is required in systems when switching from R22 to propane. The combination of its good thermodynamic and thermophysical properties yields systems that are at least as energy efficient as those working with R22. The use of propane is increasing in countries where regulations allow it.

Ammonia (R171). Ammonia has been continuously used throughout modern refrigeration history. Despite its numerous drawbacks, it is toxic and flammable in concentrations between 15.5% and 28% in air. It is not compatible with copper, thus requiring other materials of construction. Its thermodynamic and thermophysical properties also yield very efficient refrigeration systems. Because of its acute toxicity, stringent regulations apply for ammonia systems, which require close monitoring and highly skilled engineers and technicians.

20140213_132339_resizedCarbon dioxide (CO2) is not a new refrigerant. Rather, it was ‘rediscovered’ in the early 90’s. The use of carbon dioxide as a refrigerant has gone back well over a century. Its application was abandoned in the mid-50s, with the widespread use of the CFC refrigerants, which were more efficient, more stable and safer. Due to its low environmental impact, low toxicity and non-flammability, CO2 is now regaining popularity from refrigeration system designers when an alternative to fluorocarbons is being sought. (Ahmed Bensafi and Bernard Thonon)

So there are alternatives on the market and technology development is tackling this issue it is now up to the designers and operators to specify something new to move the industry forward. With F-Gas regulation 2 coming we need to get ahead of the game.

We have tried to cover some of the available refrigerants seen in the market and we will be evaluating and discussing the selection criteria in our future blogs.

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