The Truth About Cars » Refrigerant The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Refrigerant Credits For Dangerous Refrigerant Is The Latest In CAFE Loophole Mon, 30 Dec 2013 21:08:49 +0000 000-388x550

Remember R1234yf – the replacement refrigerant for R134a that can be potentially fatal, rather than just harmful to the environment? After a protracted battle between Mercedes-Benz and the EU over the use of the new refrigerant, which is flammable and extremely toxic, the adoption of R1234yf appears to be in full swing.

A report in Automotive News claims that the adoption of R1234yf will leave auto makers eligible for CAFE credits. As many as 500,000 vehicles in US showrooms have adopted R1234yf, including the Honda Fit EV, Cadillac XTS and Jeep Cherokee. The switch was prompted by concerns over greenhouse gases, as R134a is some 1,430 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. 1234yf is also much more expensive, at roughly ten times the cost of R134a.

Despite the health and safety concerns regarding R1234yf, the relentless drive to switch over to it seems to be driven by a policy of putting the environment before people, no matter what the consequences may be. While the EU has resorted to legal action against non-compliant auto makers, the EPA has offered credits to auto makers that switch over to the new substance to help them meet CAFE requirements, adding yet another layer of complexity to a framework riddled with loopholes and unfortunate incentives.

Automakers like Mercedes-Benz are eager to switch over to CO2 as the new standard for refrigerants, but that would require higher-pressure HVAC systems in car, which would in turn have a negative impact on fuel economy.

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French Court Allows Sale of R134a Equipped Mercedes Benzes, Daimler to Move to Carbon Dioxide Refrigerant Wed, 28 Aug 2013 16:37:26 +0000 000

In the continuing saga of Daimler, the EU and banned refrigerants, the German automaker won a provisional ruling from France’s highest administrative judicial body to overturn the suspension of the sale of Mercedes-Benz models equipped with R134a refrigerant in those cars’ air conditioning systems. European Union regulators have banned R134a but Daimler claims that the replacement, R1234yf, can create fire and toxicity safety issues. The French Council of State said that authorities in that country must resume registrations of those Mercedes-Benz models while the case goes on.

According to Bloomberg, the court in Paris ruled that there is “serious doubt” about the immediate environmental threat upon which the French government was basing the sales ban. The French Ministry of Ecology, Development and Energy had blocked new registrations of the models in July, citing EU environmental rules, while Daimler insisted that since the models were type-approved by the German Federal Motor Vehicle Office, or KBA, they can be registered anywhere in the EU.

The models affected are the SL roadster, the CLA four doors, and A-class and B-class compacts and French sales of those vehicles make up about 2% of Daimler’s global revenue. “We expect the French authorities to start registering our vehicles within the next 48 hours,” Daimler said in a statement.

Eventually, a Daimler spokesman said the company will be switching all of its air conditioning systems to the use of carbon dioxide as a refrigerant by 2017, which it says is “the most climate-friendly and safest solution.”

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Daimler Loses Another Round With EU Over R1234yf, Ban on Sale of R134a Equipped M-B Cars Likely to Spread Throughout Europe Mon, 22 Jul 2013 11:30:11 +0000 SONY DSC

When we last reported on France banning some Mercedes-Benz vehicles because the company refuses to use the now mandated R1234yf refrigerant, representatives from all 28 EU member states were scheduled to meet with the EU’s Technical Committee on Motor Vehicles to discuss the matter, particularly as it regards the sale of M-B vehicles in the 27 other EU countries besides France. That meeting has since taken place and according to a memo issued by the European Commission, those representatives have confirmed that all new vehicles sold throughout the EU must use R1234yf, and that any vehicles with the now banned R134a must be withdrawn from the market in all EU states. The dispute is over the fire safety of the new refrigerant. R134a was banned because it is considered a greenhouse gas.

The EU’s statement from its Technical Committee on Motor Vehicles seems to criticize Germany’s Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (Federal Motor Transport Authority), upon whose certification of Mercedes-Benz A-class, B-class and SL cars built since June, Daimler has been relying to sell the cars in Europe outside of Germany. “National authorities” and the manufacturers they regulate were told they must find “effective solutions to ensure the safety of European citizens” and the goals of climate objectives and a fair, competitive market (emphasis added).

Since the statement from the EU tells member states that “corrective measures shall be taken to bring the vehicles in conformity including the withdrawal of those non-conforming vehicles already sold on the market, as has already been done by a Member State,” Mercedes-Benz can probably expect sales of those cars to be blocked across the continent.

Full EU Commission Memo below:

European Commission


Brussels, 17 July 2013

The Technical Committee on Motor Vehicles supports the European Commission approach to the MAC affair

The Technical Committee on Motor Vehicles met today in a very constructive and positive atmosphere. The European Commission and the competent authorities of the 28 Member States discussed the current situation regarding the implementation of Directive 2006/40/EC on mobile air conditioning (MAC Directive).

There was a general consensus that, within their respective responsibilities, the national authorities and the vehicle manufacturers will have to find effective solutions to ensure the safety of European citizens, the achievement of the climate objectives of the Directive, and the good functioning of and fair competition in the internal market, in full respect of the requirements of the EU legal framework.

Member Stats acknowledged that, regarding the vehicles which do not conform to EU law, corrective measures shall be taken to bring the vehicles in conformity including the withdrawal of those non-conforming vehicles already sold on the market, as has already been done by a Member State.

The European Commission is committed to continue discussions with Member States in the coming weeks with a view to finding appropriate solutions.

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EU To Germany: Use The Explosive, Toxic Stuff, Or Else Fri, 14 Jun 2013 17:06:38 +0000

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.

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Daimler Appeases EU Over Refrigerant. Zetsche Declares “S-Class For Our Time” Fri, 08 Mar 2013 11:00:11 +0000

Daimler and Volkswagen reached an agreement over an air-conditioning refrigerant that Daimler claimed was flammable and extremely hazardous to one’s health.

Reuters reports that Daimler, together with Audi, BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen, will develop a “completely new A/C system that employs non-flammable carbon dioxide as an alternative to the new, flammable HFO-1234yf refrigerant.”

The current R134a used in virtually every A/C system will be banned in 2017, and HFO-1234yf had been tabled as the replacement substance. HFO-1234yf  is said to be more climate friendly despite the numerous health risks claimed by Daimler, including risks of fire and toxic gases that occur during combustion. But its maker, Honeywell, claims that Daimler is just looking to save money by not using the more expensive HFO-1234yf.

The EU mandate to use HFO-1234yf is still on the books. Daimler R&D chief Thomas Weber told Reuters during the Geneva auto show that Daimler would be prepared to pay the EU compensation for violating the directive, although he stopped short of calling it a “fine.”


Today, Volkswagen announced

“its entry into CO2 technology, which will be rolled out progressively over its entire vehicle fleet.

Entry into CO2 technology will further contribute towards climate protection. CO2 (carbon dioxide) as a refrigerant – also known as R744 – is a naturally occurring gas with significantly lower greenhouse gas effects than conventional refrigerants, and it is ideal for use in specially designed automotive air conditioning systems. With a GWP (Global Warming Potential) value of 1, it is 99.3 per cent below the EU specified GWP limit of 150. “

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Explosive Refrigerant Threatens To Blow Up S-Class Launch Wed, 20 Feb 2013 14:50:27 +0000

Daimler is dead set against using the new refrigerant HFO-1234yf, even if it is forced down it throat. The EU makes it a must in all news cars, but Daimler says it can fry and kill you. Now, Daimler can get burned big-time. Without HFO-1234yf, its new S-Class will be illegal, but “using HFO-1234yf is out of the question,” a Daimler spokesman told Automobilwoche [sub].

The new S-Class will be launched this summer in Europe. Germany’s Kraftfahrtbundesamt has given type approval only with the EU-mandated HFO-1234yf. Without the explosive refrigerant, the car would be illegal anywhere in Europe.

In 2012, the refrigerant ignited during a crash test at Daimler. Daimler recalled all B-Class and A-Class cars sold with the refrigerant, and converted the air conditioner.

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Kill Or Be Killed: Automakers Can Be Forced To Use Deadly Refrigerant Wed, 19 Dec 2012 14:25:48 +0000

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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Environmentally Safe Refrigerant Can Blow Up And Poison You If You Aren’t Dead Already Wed, 12 Dec 2012 15:28:59 +0000

HFO-1234yf is a refrigerant that is becoming an industry standard in Europe. Thanks to incentives offered by the Environmental Protection Agency, the refrigerant is likely to be rolled out widely in the United States as well. Honeywell and partner Dupont have a monopoly on the stuff. It also can kill you in more ways than one. Says  Reuters:

When engineers at Mercedes-Benz tasked with field-testing a revolutionary new refrigerant watched it ignite in a ball of fire before their eyes, it took a while for the significance of their discovery to sink in.

Simulating a leak in the air-conditioning line of a Mercedes B-Class tourer, they had released a fine mixture of refrigerant and A/C compressor oil, which sprayed across the car’s turbo-charged 1.6 litre engine.

The substance caught fire as soon as it hit the hot surface, releasing a toxic, corrosive gas as it burned. The car’s windshield turned milky white as lethal hydrogen fluoride began eating its way into the glass.

“We were frozen in shock, I am not going to deny it. We needed a day to comprehend what we had just seen,” said Stefan Geyer, a senior Daimler engineer who ran the tests.”

After Daimler’s findings, major carmakers quietly did a new round of safety tests. The tests showed combustion occurring in more than two-thirds of the cases after a simulated head-on collision, Reuters says.

Before that, Andreas Kornath, a chemistry professor at the University of Munich, warned that HFO-1234yf can release hydrogen fluoride HF.L during its combustion. Says Reuters:

“Readily absorbed by the skin, hydrogen fluoride begins attacking the body once it enters the bloodstream by spreading death on a cellular level, a process known as necrosis. High enough doses are known to cause the lungs to fill up with fluid, causing a drowning sensation, and to trigger cardiac arrest.”

European carmakers are opposed to using the new refrigerant. Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech advocates the use of CO2 as a refrigerant that is “guaranteed not to burn”.

Honeywell and Dupont concede that HFO1234yf is “mildly flammable”, but claim the reports of a killer substance are overblown. “The chance of being killed by an inflating airbag is 100 times higher,” said Chris Seeton, an engineer from Honeywell leading the development of HFO-1234yf. He also says Daimler doctored the test. “Their test was engineered for that outcome.”

GM announced it will use  HFO-1234yf in 2013 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac models. Ford says it will use HFO-1234yf in its European models if required, but would like to stick with the current refrigerant, HFC-134a.

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German Media Warns Of C02-Substitute “Killer Coolant” Mon, 07 Nov 2011 21:42:45 +0000

Germany’s Autobild continues to bang the drum about HFO-1234yf, an air-conditioning coolant sold by US supplier Honeywell as an “environmentally-friendly” alternative to other refrigerants. Problem is, C02 seems to be not only more environmentally safe, but safer for humans (notably rescue workers) as well…

Though the basic problem is that nobody outside of the manufacturer of the substance has much of an idea of what its real risks are, there are a couple of lines of criticism that researchers want to test.

  • Flammability. Honeywell knew HFO-1234yf is flammable, and initially marketed it mixed with a fire extinguishing substance. That igniion-retarding iodine compound was later implicated in ozone depletion, and Honeywell now simply downplays concerns about flammability.
  • Toxicity: HFO-1234yf breaks down into trifluoroacetic acid, a phytotoxic substance Autobild calls an “insidious poison.” In an experiment undertaken for Autobild, a chemist exposed a pig’s head to ten grams of the substance and “within a half hour, its skin had turned grey and its eyes had become dull and milky.”
  • Alternatives: German automakers abandoned HFO-1234yf in 2007 for these very reasons, but went back on their decision in 2009. Industry-watchers blame lobbying and the automakers’ desire to increase the volume of their orders from Honeywell (which also supplies other systems) for the about-face, although the official reason was that the main alternative (C02) was more expensive. Autobild argues that this is a specious argument, as C02 is a far cheaper refrigerant, and that it amortizes its extra up-front cost after “a few refills.”

Rescue workers are now leading the charge to undertake independent testing of the coolant, which was first produced in 1946. Alex Lechleuthner, Head of the Cologne Fire Brigade’s Department of Emergency Medicine says there are “very high operational and personnel expenses” associated with such tests, but that they independent testing is crucial as “previously known information from the manufacturer could be judged very differently depending on the viewing angle.”

And there’s more than just the possible risk of eye-dulling toxicity for rescue workers: according to one EPA document’s abstract:

Automobile air conditioning HFO-1234yf emissions are predicted to produce concentrations of TFA (trifluoroacetic acid) in Eastern U.S. rainfall at least double the values currently observed from all sources, natural and man-made. Our model predicts peak concentrations in rainfall of 1264 ng L(-1), a level that is 80x lower than the lowest level considered safe for the most sensitive aquatic organisms.

But what kind of world would we live in if C02 emissions were less harmful than their alternatives? Especially if one of those alternatives were proprietarily manufactured by a supplier that could charge $150 per kilo for the stuff? Well, when faced with the Autobild attack, that very supplier Honeywell responded [presentation PDF here], arguing that

The new gas has already been approved for use in the US, Japan and Europe and was recently given the all clear by the German firefighter association Deutscher Feuerwehr Verband (DFV) which said it was convinced it had the same safety standards as R134a. The DFV described the toxicity of R1234yf as low and comparable to R134a and was safe for passengers and emergency services.

The chemical manufacturers point out that HFO1234yf has undergone significant testing for safety and efficacy by independent testing groups, including the SAE International Cooperative Research Program, which comprises leading automakers. The SAE testing found HFO1234yf to offer “superior environmental performance” to CO2 while having “the lowest risk for use in mobile air conditioning systems in meeting environmental and consumer needs.”

Separately the EPA reports [PDF] that the SAE test found that

the risk for excessive HF exposure is less than one ten-thousandth the risk of a highway vehicle fire and one fortieth or less of the risk of a fatality from deployment of an airbag during a vehicle… The highest risk identified for HFO-1234yf is potential consumer exposure to HF from decomposition and ignition, which is of the same order of magnitude of risks of HF from the current most common automotive refrigerant, hydrofluorocarbon collision

Dig around long enough and you’ll find a middle ground in HFO-1234yf analysis, like this one from the Auto Parts Accessories Journal, which identifies the long-term risks of TFA buildup and Honeywell/DuPont’s monopoly on supply (and the resulting high price of the substance) as the two major drawbacks of the coolant. That piece concludes

As people who love good engineering, we admit to being just a bit regretful that the CO2 systems were not at least given a chance to prove themselves. It’s difficult to believe that in terms of total environmental impact, from manufacture, distribution, maintenance and actual use, that CO2 would not have a greatly reduced environmental impact over any complex chemical refrigerant. We’ve just emerged from an era where the poor decisions of major automakers have caused their businesses to collapse. Often those decisions were made on the basis of what was most convenient, rather than what mechanics would recognize instantly as good technologies. Let’s be hopeful that HFO-1234yf turns out to be a good technology, and not just a convenient one.

We had better hope that’s the case, as the forthcoming 2013 GM products will be the first in the US market to use HFO-1234yf, starting next year.

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