Environmentally Safe Refrigerant Can Blow Up And Poison You If You Aren't Dead Already

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
environmentally safe refrigerant can blow up and poison you if you aren t dead

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.

Join the conversation
2 of 65 comments
  • Paul George Paul George on Dec 13, 2012

    Sounds awesome - can't wait to upgrade my Brostang, Focunt, or F-342 to this stuff.

  • Wstarvingteacher Wstarvingteacher on Dec 17, 2012

    Late to the party here because of reception problems but you are hitting on a pet peeve. Am still a licensed AC/refrig contractor who became too old to make a good living in the middle of all these changes. Servicemen used to just blow the load and expel moisture by flushing with freon. New regs made all that illegal (a good thing if you cared about your customer), then the refrigerants were outlawed. Suva was the first new approved one with which I am familiar. Guess who made that. Dupont answers come to the head of the class. The r12/r22/r504 and others were all outlawed. r22 without much proof it was harmful. It was so unstable that it probably never ate ozone. They were safe and efficient. So far as I am concerned watching the federal government at work is as distasteful as watching sausage being made. Aggressive enforcement of proper practices would have been sufficient but washington got their skivvies in a wad and went overboard. At least that's one old guys opinion who used to watch that stuff get vented to the environment that it bothered me a lot before it was illegal.

  • SPPPP The little boosters work way better than you would expect. I am a little nervous about carrying one more lithium battery around in the car (because of fire risk). But I have used the booster more than once on trips, and it has done the job. Also, it seems to hold charge for a very long time - months at least - when you don't use it. (I guess I could start packing it for trips, but leaving it out of the car on normal days, to minimize the fire risk.)
  • Bader Hi I want the driver side lights including the bazl and signal
  • Theflyersfan One positive: doesn't appear to have a sunroof. So you won't need to keep paper towels in the car.But there's a serious question to ask this seller - he has less than 40,000 miles on some major engine work, and the transmission and clutch work and mods are less than 2 months old...why are you selling? That's some serious money in upgrades and repairs, knowing that the odds of getting it back at the time of sale is going to be close to nil. This applies to most cars and it needs to be broadcasted - these kinds of upgrades and mods are really just for the current owner. At the time of sale, a lot of buyers will hit pause or just won't pay for the work you've done. Something just doesn't sit well with me and this car. It could be a snowbelt beast and help save the manuals and all that, but a six year old VW with over 100,000 miles normally equals gremlins and electrical issues too numerous to list. Plus rust in New England. I like it, but I'd have to look for a crack pipe somewhere if the seller thinks he's selling at that price.
  • 2ACL I can't help feeling that baby is a gross misnomer for a vehicle which the owner's use necessitated a (manual!) transmission rebuild at 80,000 miles. An expensive lesson in diminishing returns I wouldn't recommend to anyone I know.
  • El scotto Rumbling through my pantry and looking for the box of sheets of aluminum foil. More alt right comments than actual comments on international trade policy. Also a great deal of ignorance about the global oil industry. I'm a geophysicist and I pay attention such things. Best of all we got to watch Tassos go FULL BOT on us.