By Jim Taylor, Editor, MACS ACTION Magazine
No, not those guys; the domestic OEMs can get their own new out quite nicely on their own. But there are some interesting developments in the world of refrigerants, and our big three include the names you already know: R-1234yf, R-134a, and, out of the mists of time, R-744.
For openers, the first cars using R-1234yf are now beginning to appear in Europe. The Subaru XV (to be sold in the U.S. as the 2013 XV Crosstrek) has appeared with the new refrigerant, as has the Hyundai i30. The i30’s wagon version appears here as the Elantra Touring but other models in the line don’t reach these shores.
As near as we can tell, there are no plans by either company to use R-1234yf in U.S. cars yet; it is only being used in markets where required.
Reports from our friend Ron Henselmans in the Netherlands indicate that the Subaru is running a five-vane rotary compressor from Valeo, plus an altered expansion valve and a refrigerant charge of just under a pound (450 g).
The Hyundai i30 comes with a Halla swash-plate compressor, clutchless for the automatic system or with a magnetic clutch for the manual system, and also includes an internal heat exchanger (IHX) to cool the high pressure line.
Although he saw “R-1234yf” printed on the service valve caps, Ron noted that the Hyundai he examined was devoid of any identifying refrigerant stickers or labels. The dealership told him that such was quite normal for their cars; in Europe, the capacities are only available to dealers.
While R-134a continues to be the refrigerant of choice in non-European markets, the problem of counterfeit product is spreading. You’ve already read about the need to check your tanks and remain vigilant against the risk of contaminated gas. As awareness grows, the frequency of incidents – or more correctly, of discovery – increases as well.
Bogus gas, often labeled in an almost-perfect forgery of a brand name product, has been found around the world. It almost always contains some R-40 (methyl chloride) and quite often other non-automotive refrigerants such as R-22 or R-142b. When the R-40 passes over aluminum, the chemical reacts and forms a new compound which can explode when exposed to air. The phony refrigerant is being mass produced in Asia—the exact sources remain uncertain—and a large international effort is underway to find and prosecute the bad guys.
Meanwhile, Russia recently intercepted over eight tons of the phony gas during import checks and Brazilian customs agents found close to 300 tons late last year.
We also know that the U.S military is extremely concerned, having recently found that air conditioning systems on overseas vehicles, particularly in the Middle East, had received some of the counterfeit products as well.
the U.S. EPA has issued a final rule for the use of carbon dioxide (CO2 or R-744) for use in motor vehicle air conditioning systems. Wait a minute; didn’t we hear that before? Well, yes, a few years ago, but at the time EPA simply put the gas on the SNAP list and reserved the right to revisit or redefine the rules at their choosing. That’s what just happened.
Instead of simply being “acceptable,” the gas is now termed “acceptable subject to use conditions.” That makes sense, and the prime condition is that the system be specifically designed to use R-744. As you may recall when it was the hot topic a few years ago, a carbon dioxide system operates at much higher pressures than today’s R-134a systems. Thus, to run that gas, every component needs to be beefier, and there can be no retrofits.
Other requirements include unique fittings to prevent connecting the wrong equipment, installation of warning labels, a compressor cut-off switch, and a method of guaranteeing that in case of an evaporator leak the CO2 levels in the cabin do not exceed certain limits.
Interestingly, EPA took great pains to note that they are not advocating any particular method of controlling or detecting CO2 in the cabin. All of that is left to the manufacturer and there are several schools of thought on the matter.
They also said “we do not believe it is necessary to establish any use conditions regarding servicing because the overall environmental and human health risks posed by the use of CO2 in the new systems…is lower than or comparable to the risks posed by other substitutes …” Meaning, since it’s already in the atmosphere as a natural element, you can vent the gas directly without recovering it. It’s already exempt from the recovery requirement for stationary (Sec. 608) equipment, too.
With all the turmoil and delay surrounding the introduction of R-1234yf in North America, it’s interesting to ponder if this recent approval of R-744 for specific systems is just the normal and coincidental grinding of bureaucratic gears (it’s been in the works since 2006) or if some other forces are at work behind the scenes. We do know that all the major OEMs and suppliers were working on CO2 systems a few years ago and had developed their products to a mostly high level before manufacturing costs overcame the effort. Are we in for yet another surprise?
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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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