By on June 14, 2013

Brussels set the German government an ultimatum:  Force automakers to use the R1234yf, or we’ll see you in court. Germany has 10 weeks to answer, writes Der Spiegel,  before the  EU will file charges.

German carmakers, notably Daimler, refuse to use the R1234yf, refrigerant. They say the new stuff is highly flammable, and when it burns, it produces toxic gases that would violate the Chemical Weapons Convention, would the burning car be used in warfare.

Germany’s Kraftfahrtbundesamt will conduct a series of crash-tests with cars of various makers. Brussels is unlikely to receive an answer before these tests are concluded.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

36 Comments on “EU To Germany: Use The Explosive, Toxic Stuff, Or Else...”


  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Way to stick it to the man! MB

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      Yup, and it’s not only Daimler. BMW and VW agree as well. All three companies left the SAE taskforce on R1234yf earlier this year.

      Their combined credibility vs Honeywell/Dupont, who have the monopoly on R1234yf and a new plant in China making the stuff, is overwhelming for me.

      I just cannot see why the entire native German car industry would go to all this time and trouble to battle against this new refrigerant’s use unless they were truly concerned about its safety. Easier just to roll over and go along if they did not really care.

      Honeywell’s response to each Mercedes test concerning flammability in actual tests is to tell Mercedes they’re wrong and to cite SAE approval as justification. This is tantamount to waving a red flag in the face of the German car industry and telling them they’re stupid. The battle lines are now drawn.

      The EU can take a running shot at a brick wall for all the Germans care. What some EU commissioner thinks or threatens they deem as irrelevant, and can’t say I blame them.

      Looking forward to the outcome.

  • avatar
    J.Emerson

    Your car is already full of toxic substances that can kill you. Ever spilled brake fluid on your skin? Or seen someone’s pet die from drinking antifreeze? I’m not sure implementing this new chemical is really “worth it” from an environmental standpoint, but I don’t buy that it’s going to make cars less safe, either. Daimler just doesn’t want to be forced to use a patented chemical that’s more expensive than R12.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      The current refrigerant in standard automotive use is R134a. R12 has been out of use for nearly two decades now. I understand R134a was never meant to be the be-all, end-all of refirgerant solutions, but we’ve made it work OK and it’s mostly inert. I don’t see the need to force everyone to change.

      • 0 avatar
        stottpie

        I wonder how effective the new r1234yf is. R12 is definitely more effective than R123a, I’d hate to see another downgrade.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          In some areas R1234a is slightly better than R134a and some areas slightly worse. General efficiency is a bit worse from what I understand with R1234a, but most users won’t know the difference as their thermodynamic properties are similar.

      • 0 avatar
        J.Emerson

        I should have said R134a, my bad. Chemical names were never my strong suit. I’m definitely no expert on refrigeration systems, I just doubt that Daimler is “doing it for the customers” and not some other business reason. My understanding of the situation is that some company holds exclusive rights to 1234yf, so they can basically charge what they want if they get a legislated monopoly. Obviously, Daimler wants to avoid that scenario.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          Apparently Honeywell and DuPont are the patent holders on the R1234yf refirgerant, so you’re right that it would essentially hand a monopoly to them. It’s significantly more expensive than R134a for the moment anyway, so there will be an increased cost that customers will bear in excange for no added value.

          So I tend to agree that any mandate of this product leans toward cronyism. Proponents of it will argue its lesser “global warming factor”, but even if that mattered, any place that intends to mandate R1234yf already has recovery requirements in place to ensure that R134a isn’t released to the atmosphere.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          So you think that all the money Diamler is spending on battling this stuff is to try to save them money. They have spent great resources to make this stuff work. If they didn’t feel so strongly about it they wouldn’t have recalled all the new SLs that were shipped with R-1234yf and have them converted to R-134a if they were trying to save money. What they are afraid of is lawsuits from people that can be seriously hurt from this stuff.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      “Ever spilled brake fluid on your skin? ”

      Yeah. Washed it off, though. No noticeable effect.

      • 0 avatar
        J.Emerson

        It scalded my friend pretty good before he could wash it off, and he didn’t let it linger very long. You probably have better skin than he does.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Brake fluid is not going to “scald” anyone. It is extremely hydroscopic, and thus basically sucks the moisture out of the affected skin, and feels a bit weird but that is it. Obviously, don’t drink the stuff.

          I too think there is more of a cost argument against banning R134 and changing to something else. Certainly anyone driving around with 20 gallons of gasoline should hardly be concerned about pound or so of refrigerant. R134 is quite flammable too.

          But in any event, get out the popcorn, this is going to be fun to watch. In large part, Germany IS the EU, and if they decide to not play, I suspect Brussels can just pound sand. My money is on the Germans winning this one.

          • 0 avatar
            Hummer

            How exactly does the EU take a country to court? And given that question, why would a country care about what the EU thinks?

            If Germany could drop the funds going to, and the membership from the EU, it would seem they would be worlds ahead.

            Granted half of Europe would collapse without Germany’s money, but it’s hard to make the argument that they don’t deserve it.

            As long as a country isn’t killing innocent citizens, or similar harms, it is of my opinion no one has a place to tell any country how to go about its business, the US included.

          • 0 avatar
            schmitt trigger

            Germany is the EU, and German auto industry IS Europe’s auto industry. Everyone else is an also ran.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          Wacky. Many times I’ve had brake fluid all over my hands for up to maybe an hour at a time. It always washed off easily and had no noticeable effect on my skin.

  • avatar
    mike1dog

    I don’t know German, so I’m not sure what the first video, with it’s ominous music and silly visuals was supposed to prove. It turns your disembodied pig heads blue? Anyway. I read elsewhere that the SAE called their test unrealistic, and that they were unable to replicate it. They said it was safe.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    This is just more crony green capitalism. It won’t stop until the con artists who pull this crap get thrown in jail.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    All compatibility discussions I’ve witnessed have been about making R123A work in old systems that were designed for R12. What about the other way? If I have Freon, can I use it in newer systems for the ultimate in air conditioning efficiency?

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Not sure why anyone would consider old R12 systems; most of them are off the roads by now.

    • 0 avatar
      stuart

      “Yes, but…”

      The problem is the lubricant. In most A/C systems, the oil circulates with the refrigerant. R12 mixed well with mineral oil, that’s one of its best properties. R134a won’t mix with mineral oil, so they use a strange lubricant that’s a cousin to brake fluid; it’s hygroscopic, and breaks down when water gets in.

      The chlorine in R12 apparently accelerates this lubricant breakdown. You could do this reverse-retrofit, but you must get all the old R134a lubricant out of the system first.

      I gather the HF1234yf stuff works with the existing R134a lubricants.

      stuart

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        1234yf has a virtually identical heat transfer curve to 134a; if fact when MB got all nervous about the fire in their severe, tough to duplicate in the real world test, they simply switched to 134a with no more changes than swapping the service ports. Because of the very high price of the new refrigerant, pretty much anybody who has a 1234yf car will get 134a after the warranty period. There are presently no regulations barring the practice. And yes, the lubricants are the same.

        When the switch from R12 took place, conversions faced two big hurdles. One was the lubricant. R12’s oil was not compatible with the oil required for 134a. A good flushing was required. The other problem was cooling performance. Unlike the virtual mirror image of 134a and 1234yf, the properties of 134a and R12 were different. Folks who had converted systems often found that while performance at speed was fine, idling in traffic often meant tepid performance. That was not because 134a was not as good, but it showed that for equal performance, other changes to the system was required. Cars that switched over at the factory without any other changes faced the same issues that retrofitted cars did. Proper performance meant bigger coils, different valving, and other things to make the new system deliver performance as good as R12 systems did, all while using a notably smaller charge of refrigerant than the old systems.

        Regarding moisture, ANY moisture or non-condenseables in the refrigerant system spell doom.

        Swapping in R12 to a new system would have the same lubricant issues as going the other way, but would you get extra “tonnage” out of the system using the old stuff? Interesting question. Would the evaporator coils just ice over? Not sure. I have five pounds of R12 in my garage…

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          I might volunteer to answer that question. One of my cars delivers ice cold air under certain situations, but fails to do so under many others. I’m curious to know if Freon would produce colder air more of the time.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Mercedes B-Class, Zyklon Edition?

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Regardless of the legitimacy of the claims for the refrigerant and supposed dangers,

    Does anyone honestly believe a group of UNELECTED hypocrites who all have become very rich on their meager salaries has the interest of the German people in mind?

  • avatar
    OldWingGuy

    Many years ago (still R12 days, I expect), a buddy and I were pulling into work and a co-workers car was on fire. We pried open the hood and put the fire out. On the way in, I noticed a couple of the local volunteer fire dept fellows standing at the window watching. When I asked why they didn’t come out to help, they said when Freon (R12) burns it creates phosgene gas (from WW1 chemical warefare days). So they were trained to just let cars burn themselves out.
    I’m not sure if any of that is true, but I did thank them for not coming out and stopping us…
    I realize that R12 is no longer available, and I have no idea if R134a or R-whatever is nasty when it burns.
    Either way, I can’t afford a German car, so I don’t think I will be too impacted by this.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      GM was going to use this stuff; the ATS was first in line but they changed their minds allegedly because the compressor produced a different sound that they found objectionable. Phosgene gas is created by high temperature breakdown of the family of refrigerants used in the past. Not sure if a regular fire will do the same thing however. Perhaps there is a chemist out there who will comment.

      The test that got MB all upset was set by taking a small turbo car with a tight engine compartment, disabling the underhood cooling fan, running the engine hard for an extended period of time, and creating a fault in the refrigerant system to have the refrigerant and OIL spray directly on the superheated turbo. The ensuing fire created the controversy. I am curious just how any refrigerant/oil mix would perform under those conditions…

      • 0 avatar
        stuart

        You’re correct that an R12 system tested as MB did would create a similar fireball; when properly atomized, the R12 mineral oil will burn spectacularly.

        However, what concerned MB was the “hydrogen fluoride” produced when HFO-1234yf burns. This stuff etched the MB windshield, turning it milky white. Here’s the reference:

        http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/environmenatlly-safe-refrigerant-can-blow-up-and-poison-you-if-you-arent-dead-already/

        As for burning R12, it may produce phosgene gas, but it can’t be much. I have some service manuals from the 1960s that show a leak detector made from a propane torch and a rubber hose; when the hose picked up leaking R12, the torch flame changed color!

        stuart

        • 0 avatar
          Number6

          If it’s out gassing HF when it burns, damaged windshields are the least of your problems…

          • 0 avatar
            KrisZ

            You should use your imagination.
            The problem is not the windshield, but human skin. If the windshield can get etched, it doesn’t take a genius to see what will happen when this stuff contacts human skin.
            That’s what got MB concerned.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        golden2husky – – –

        R12 (dichlorodifluoromethane, “Freon”) was the worst of the early group of refrigerants in both environmental impact and potential for phosgene production upon thermal decomposition. However, the conditions for significant amounts of that lethal gas would have to be just right: excess oxygen; > 300-350 deg C; confined space, — and then you finally get some (Cl)2C=O. Ordinary “open” ventilated car fires would likely be nothing to worry about (from that source anyway). Other cholorfluorocarbon refrigerants are very much less likely to produce phosgene. And R134A (1,1,1,2 tetrafluoroehtane) obviously can’t produce any phosgene at all upon decomposition. This is one of these “scare” situations that exceeds the reality of a usual car fire, given the fact that occupants somehow have a desire to get anyway from a burning car!

        But here is a comment that reviews all this much better than anything I could add:
        “When a refrigerant is decomposed or burned, the primary products formed are acids: Hydrochloric acid (HCI), if the refrigerant contains chlorine, and hydrofluoric acid (HF), if it contains fluorine. These products are certainly formed when hydrogen is present, such as from the breakdown of oil, water or if the refrigerant has hydrogen attached (like R-22 or R-134a). If oxygen also is present (from air or water), then it’s possible to form carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and various unsaturated carbonyl compounds — the most notorious of which is phosgene.

        Being extremely toxic in small amounts, phosgene formation was a real concern when traditional refrigerants (R11, R- 12, R- 113, R- 114) decomposed. Phosgene contains two chlorine atoms and an oxygen atom. It will only form when oxygen is present and only the refrigerants with chlorine attached will produce phosgene (not HFCs). R22 has only one chlorine atom per molecule, so it is extremely difficult, chemically speaking, to get another one attached to form phosgene. Decomposition of R-22 or HFCs may form other carbonyl fluorides, however they are not as toxic as phosgene.”
        ref: http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070327153627AAaDFtw

        ————————

  • avatar
    Joe K

    Do they not have personal injury lawyers in europe?

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      In large part, no. In most countries you would have to show willful negligence to collect at all, and the award would be a tiny fraction of what you would get here. Europeans are big believers in personal responsibility.

      • 0 avatar
        ash78

        I never thought I’d read that last sentence, but it’s actually true. The confusion comes with European governments, which are considered more intrusive than in the US.

        Americans counteract this — for better or worse — with a very loose legal system that allows frivolous lawsuits that can be brought against others with impunity.

        Pick your poison: Expensive, excessive government or greedy, unrestricted lawyers.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States