By Jim Taylor, Editor MACS ACtion Magazine
Here in the U.S, we don’t see or hear too much about hydrocarbon (HC) based refrigerant gasses. At least 19 states ban their use in vehicles outright and there are a variety of other federal and state regulations in effect as well. Every now and then some twit shows up on the Internet with the next big thing, but we never see him again telling how his compressor failed shortly thereafter because the oil became badly diluted.
In other countries, the picture is vastly different. A variety of HCs may show up in mobile A/C systems and be perfectly legal. However, legal doesn’t mean safe. You may recall that the HC family includes such familiar names as butane and propane (plus many others), and these gasses are often used for heating and cooking. They’re used for those purposes because they combust easily and give off plenty of heat. Remember that combust easily part.
It’s that whole “risk of explosive gas inside the car” thing that rules them out as a refrigerant, and some countries are beginning to take action on a national basis. The government of Singapore recently announced that from April first of this year, the use of HC refrigerant in any motor vehicle will be prohibited. They further specify that the edict covers “all type of road transport such as motor cars, vans, lorries, buses and trains.” That’s “all” vehicles, not all new vehicles; some folks will have some changes to make regardless of the age of the vehicle.
The authorities even give a hat-tip to the environmental benefits of HCs but add “…the main consideration is that HC refrigerant is extremely flammable and would pose a potential safety hazard to users and occupants.”
The hazard was recently pointed up by two unfortunate accidents in Australia. In both cases, tanks of flammable gas—not refrigerant in this case but possibly acetylene or propane—were stored in a vehicle at least overnight. When each operator returned to their vehicle, something they did caused a spark and the interior of the car exploded due to tank leakage. In both cases, the operators died.
It is believed that whatever caused the spark was part of normal operation such as a door-lock solenoid moving or a light switch engaging. It’s not much of a stretch to extend that situation to a leaking hose or evaporator when HCs are in the air conditioning system.
In Australia, the battle to eliminate HC refrigerants continues; the chemical’s use is illegal in some states and territories but not in others which makes for a confused and often scary repair market. Australia’s air conditioning trade group VASA is in the fight, and their CEO Ken Newton writes an informative and humorous column in ACTION magazine.
Trying to eliminate HCs in mobile air conditioning is an ongoing battle worldwide and one worth watching.
The Mobile Air Conditioning Society’s blog has been honored as the best business to business blog in the Automotive Aftermarket by the Automotive Communications Awards and the Car Care Council Women’s Board!
When having your mobile A/C system professionally serviced, insist on proper repair procedures and quality replacement parts. Insist on recovery and recycling so that refrigerant can be reused and not released into the atmosphere.
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The 33rd annual Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide Training Conference and Trade Show, Be the Best of the Best will take place February 7-9, 2013 at the Caribe Royale, Orlando, FL.