By on December 19, 2012

If you are an automaker, and you know that something can blow up and poison your customers, then you are in deep trouble if you put that stuff in your cars. In Germany, you are in in deep Scheiss if you don’t. Daimler may have to pay high fines if it continues using an old refrigerant in 2013, instead of the new HFO-1234yf, of which Daimler says it can fry and kill you. If Daimler continues to resist, it may lose the European type certification for the A and B Class. Which could kill the company.

This according to a legal opinion, commissioned by a department of the German parliament. The paper has been leaked to Germany’s Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung. Germany’s Kraftfahrtbundesamt, the agency that administers the type certification in Germany, says that nobody is forcing Daimler to use HFO-1234yf, “as long as the European rules regarding global warming potential are being met.”

Catch-22: Only HFO-1234yf meets the new standards, in effect as of January 1, 2013.

Daimler is not alone. According to the FAZ, Subaru, Mazda, Hyundai-Kia, Renault, Fisker, and Toyota have received type certifications for cars that use HFO-1234yf.

A group representing German firefighters demands that HFO-1234yf is outlawed. The group worries that burning refrigerant can emit substances more dangerous than chemical weapons, Auto Bild says.

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42 Comments on “Kill Or Be Killed: Automakers Can Be Forced To Use Deadly Refrigerant...”


  • avatar
    MarkP

    This refrigerant may or may not be a good idea, but can we drop this “deadly” thing? You might as well say “Automakers use deadly fuel.” And I think previous discussions have pointed out that existing and previously-used auto refrigerants can also produce deadly chemicals when burned, like phosgene.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      When that “deadly fuel burns” it doesn’t create byproducts anywhere as deadly as hydrogen fluoride. The fuel also doesn’t flow through the passenger cabin and have high concentrations in a cooling coil that has cabin air being pushed over constantly.

    • 0 avatar
      Automusings

      I agree with dropping the “deadly” references. No need to worry people needlessly. There is something very strange about Daimler’s actions regarding this issue. Why did they act on their own back in September 2012 to declare in a press release they they had discovered issues with the refrigerant in their cars through a new test? Why did they not raise these concerns to the SAE collaborative research program they belonged to, in which they had previously vouched for the safety of the coolant? Why did they not say to other OEMs: look, guys, we’ve found this issue, what do you think? Are you having the same issues?, before going public with it. It sure looks like they discovered issues linked to the design of their own engine or cars, and they are perhaps trying to put the blame on the coolant rather than on their design… Could that be? I can’t believe it would simply be for financial reasons. Come on, it’s a luxury make.

  • avatar
    Remi

    Agreed that we might want to tone down the rethoric on “deadly” – but more than half of the new cars in Europe do use diesel fuel which is a lot less deadly than gasoline.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Just go back to R12.

    Or use CO2, driving a bigger compressor, condensor, etc, adding more mass, taking up more underhood space, and essentially making automotive A/C illegal for smaller cars.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Cue the “this is all the fault of U.S. trial lawyers with their greedy ways & an out-of-control system of tort law.”

    Oh, wait, this relates to the European Union.

    Never mind.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      Well this is a mater of statue not case law, so the lawyers can’t be blamed. Tort reform might be needed in the US, but that’s never going to happen, on the other hand I said the same thing about libel reform in the UK. So what do I know.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        It’s not a case of statutory law, but administrative regulations.

        I don’t know if Daimler is “rigging the test” as Honeywell (and DuPont?) has/have claimed, due to HFO-1234yf being 10x as expensive as the currently used refrigerant, or if Daimler is being on the up & up, Daimler’s tests weren’t manipulated, and HFO-1234yf really poses the risk that Daimler (and some other manufacturers) claim that it does.

        Honeywell has gone so far as to claim that Daimler overcharged the system in the vehicle used in that test and that, statistically speaking, “[t]he chance of being killed by an inflating airbag is 100 times higher” than by any release of HFO-1234yf.

        http://www.foxbusiness.com/news/2012/12/12/coolant-safety-row-puts-heat-on-europe-carmakers/

        (I know that it’s a Fox News link, but it appears to report both sides’ perspectives– wait for it– in a fair and balanced way.)

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        Well your right ’bout the statue thing, however the enforcement is probably regulated in statue so same, same, but different.

        Fox fair and balanced? That’s a shocker, how did they managed that? Science will never be able to explain it I think, just like how the tide works, nobody knows.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I think that the enforcement of penalties would be via administrative agency, as well, but am not 100% positive about it. Maybe a European TTAC reader could weigh in on the Muscles in Brussels.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    +1 to the comments above.

    Obviously the mfrs need to include a Halon fire suppression system in their vehicles to combat this menace.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Nobody has proven R134a is dangerous to the environment, and we know it’s not dangerous to the consumers.

    It’s change for the sake of giving government pay-rolled agents something to do. It makes no sense to force a switch. R12 was a more efficient refrigerant then R134a, but at least they could prove it had negative affects on the environment (although I’d argue those were insignificant to cause concern).

    But this?

    • 0 avatar
      d524zoom-zoom

      +1 you took the words out of my mouth.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      Except the whole global warming thing that is.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        There are legitimate questions being put forth about the safety of HFO-1234yf, not only by rivals of Dupont & Honeywell, but by chemistry professors at the University of Munich and some regulators within the EU.

        I’m not saying it’s not safe, but based on what I’ve read, I sure as hell wouldn’t want it approved until there is more complete testing by a very neutral entity to establish its safety.

        As to the benefits to the environment from substituting HFO-1234yf for the current refrigerant, I’ll defer to the truly objective scientists.

        The crux of that matter seems to be whether, assuming it IS objectively safe to use, the $70 USD cost per original fill at the factory (vs $7 USD for the current refrigerant) plus the higher cost of system re-charging for the owner, brings a truly measurable benefit to the environment.

      • 0 avatar
        chris724

        Has Freon ever been a problem for “global warming”? I always thought it was just bad for the Ozone layer. Do the leftists even know the difference?

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        @chris724 Oldschool “Freon” was indeed bad for the ozone layer, r134a isn’t bad for the ozone layer but is a more than a thousand times more potent greenhouse gas than regular CO2

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        @chris 724 – Global Warming in quotes – really? And what’s your definition of leftist? Anyone who gives a damn? Or maybe – the citizens of blue states that have to subsidize the red states regardless of, and due to, their ideologically driven irresponsible politics.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      “R12 was a more efficient refrigerant then R134a”

      This is wrong.

      When retrofitted into an R-12 system R-134a does have lower cooling performance, primarily due to the condenser and compressor valving not being optimized for the thermal properties of R-134a.

      However, in an AC system that is purpose-built to use R-134a the efficiency is about dead-even with a system with equivalent capacity using R-12.

      This is an inevitable result of their fundamental thermodynamic properties, and is not really something that is up for debate.

      If you insist that it is, I challenge you to either find a legitimate source that claims otherwise, or demonstrate to me why R-12 is inherently more thermodynamically efficient than R-134a.

      Here’s some reading for you:

      http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/iracc/121/

      http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1155&context=iracc

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        This is hard to prove because there hasn’t been a modern version of an R-12 system produced. The systems are always being redesigned to be more efficient.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        No, it is not hard to prove.

        The comparison to note is not between an early-90′s vintage R12 system and a modern R-134a system, which would of course be unfair.

        The correct comparison is between two equivalent systems from the same era that differ only to the extent that their components have been sized and selected to suit the differing properties of R-12 and R-134a.

        Fortunately there is a mountain of data making just this comparison, mostly dating from the early-90′s when R-12 was being phased out. They prove pretty conclusively that in a properly designed AC system R-134a is equally efficient or just a bit more efficient than R-12.

        Can you provide a credible source that proves with data that R-12 is significantly more efficient than R-134a in an AC application?

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    It’s comforting to see that the EU auto industry is being held hostage by the eco/safety facists as we are in NA. While I generally support environmental efforts particularly pollution reduction, this HFO-1234blahblah is stating to sound more like opportunistic rent seeking by certain vested interests than real a real eco benefit.

  • avatar
    HFO1234yf

    In the end, Daimlers claims will prove to be false. They have other options including CO2, AC5, AC6, R152a that could be used. Apparently, they just do not want to comply with the EU law. These one sided stories just do not want the real truth that Daimler is trying to skirt the law for financial reasons.

  • avatar
    MarkP

    AMC_CJ, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that CFC refrigerants caused a decrease in stratospheric ozone — the well-known ozone hole. That decrease has itself decreased as a result of the ban of those refrigerants, not only in auto air conditioners but in other uses.

  • avatar
    Onus

    You know what we should use? propane. Problem solved. A bunch of people use it in place of r12. Though it is illegal in some places.

    • 0 avatar
      afuller

      Yeah, because propane isn’t at all flammable.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        The flammable thing isn’t really as much the issue as the fact that 1234 generates hydrogen flouride and some other VERY nasty stuff when it combusts.

        Propane? Maybe a small fire.

      • 0 avatar
        stuart

        R12 is basically not flammable… until you mix it with refrigeration oil:

        http://yarchive.net/ac/hydrocarbon_danger.html

        Generally, the danger of hydrocarbon refrigerants is overblown. If HF-1234yf is also flammable, why not use propane/butane? At least they burn without creating toxic byproducts. In the previous discussion on HF-1234yf, wmba posted a link to a MSDS for HF-1234yf that classified it as “flammable,” just like R290 (aka propane).

        stuart

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        The large containers of gasoline, propane, and natural gas that power our vehicles are far more dangerous than a small quantity of propane/butane refrigerant.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Why not just use ammonia?

      • 0 avatar
        blowfish

        they used that in the old days, my late old man told me there were ones ran with alcohol too.
        may even exist in RV fridges which uses a heater to heat up the alcohol and wait for it to evaporate.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        Commonly known as an RV Fridge or Einstein (yeah that one) fridge. Needs no compressor, but not suitable for cars for a host of reasons.
        Still in use and for sale to this day.

        Ammonia has also been an industrial favorite for decades, though much of that does run through compressors.

  • avatar
    MarkP

    Chris724, CFC refrigerants in fact have a global warming potential much larger than CO2, but the quantities involved are usually far smaller, so they are not a major contributor. On the other hand, CFCs have a large ozone depleting potential, while HCFCs have relatively smaller potential.

  • avatar
    360joules

    Small amounts of inhaled hydroflouric acid would be bad news. Even if you are intubated and on a ventilator, gas exchange would be impaired in the alveoli (little air sacs in the lungs). You’d drown in your own secretions. Splash injuries to the skin are bad enough (pour on lots of Calcium Gluconate) but an inhalation exposure would not be the good death.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    A highly flammable refrigerant that emits toxic gases? Imagine if some of the industrial sized containers got stolen.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Having worked in the field for years I think I can say that the biggest problem was the way we handled R12 and R22. We just dumped it. Nobody reclaimed. Just making venting refrigerants illegal would have really simplified things and protected mother earth. Not used for cars but R22 got a bad rap. I recall being taught that it was far too unstable to kill ozone. Btw you could stil buy r12 in mexico a long time after we stopped making it and also, as pointed out, much of the flash12 or other 12/134(?) replacements are propane. They are advertised as being legal everywhere.

    Concur with above that the new refrigerants are very bad for global warming despite killing little or no ozone.


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