So, still on with the training before I head south. Nothing too exciting this week – for most people, for me though, I’m loving it. I’m working for an organisation that is doing great things. I’m off to do what is for me a dream job in one of the coolest places on the planet and before I go there I’m learning how to do things that, as well as getting me prepared for the actual job I’ll be doing, also mean the number of qualifications and skills on my CV have massively increased. On top of that, I just chuffing love learning stuff, whether it’s useful, essential or even useless! Lets put it this way- I think I’ll soon be a pretty good person to have with you come the zombie apocalypse. Not that I’m not already mind.
This week I’ve been learning the basics of refrigeration. Making stuff cold is a fairly ordinary thing until you think of how recent it is that we have been able to do it, the technology required, and, particularly relevent to some of the work BAS does, the impact it has on our environment. Everyone has heard of the hole in the ozone layer and we all remember becoming a bit more careful with aerosols in the eighties and nineties. Refrigeration is a subject linked with both the depletion of the ozone layer and also, more recently, with global warming. Refrigeration gases used to cause big problems for those working with them until a clever bloke called Thomas Midgley invented a new type called chlorofluorocarbons, more commonly known as CFC’s. Until then, the gases used in keeping things cold could be toxic, corrosive, explosive and not particularly efficient. CFC’s were none of these and did a great job of refrigeration. Not until the hole in the ozone layer was discovered at Halley (the place I will soon call home) in the eighties did it become apparent just how harmful they really were. Poor Thomas Midgley also came up with the idea of putting lead into petrol, something else which, at the time, was considered a stroke of genius but turned out much later to be a fairly bad thing! It has to be said that Mr Midgley was a good and brilliant man trying to make the world a better place. But he was certainly unfortunate with the two things he was most known for!
CFC’s and other ozone depleting gases have been phased out and we now no longer use them, though some of them will continue to remain in our atmosphere for hundreds of years. The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is still there too and we are just beginning to learn about its impact on the world-much more than just giving us a nasty sunburn, the increased amount of UV radiation getting through the hole has changed weather patterns around the Antarctic continent. The Gases that replaced CFC’s, whilst not depleting the ozone layer, are extremely potent greenhouse gases, some thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. Although technology is improving and different gases are beginning to be used most of the gases in refrigeration are still very strong greenhouse gases. Therefore it is hugely important that the cooling equipment using them is as efficient as possible and, crucially, does not leak. A kilogram of refrigerant gas released into the atmosphere can have the same effect as the carbon dioxide from a car driven for a year!
Other than the harmful effects of the gases used in cooling I also learned the theory behind refrigeration itself. I won’t bore you with the technical stuff but it’s a brilliantly simple process using the exchange of heat with gases at different states, temperatures and pressures. This technology is used in all the things we use to keep things cool, from fridges and freezers, air conditioning units and scientific experiments. Proper interesting stuff, though I am a bit of a geek.
The practical side of things involved the maintenance and repair of refrigeration units. How to test the equipment and check for leaks in the system and what to do when you find one.
Other stuff I’ve been up to this week included getting up to date with my scaffolding qualifications, learning the basics about the IT system used by BAS and I learned how to braze copper with an oxy-acetylene torch.
I was also staying in a hotel that was creepily reminiscent of the place in Twin Peaks, though the bed was comfy!