By Ron Henselmans, Editor Auto A/C Reporter and MAC Partners EU
The past few months it seems that the industry turmoil, that was created by Daimler’s R-1234yf denial, is settling down gradually. Since last January, the European Commission has been gradually increasing the pressure on Daimler and other car manufacturers that do not comply with Directive 2006/40/EC, raising the impression not to flinch in taking further necessary steps, should those be necessary. During this process the EC is backed by other car manufacturers which are gradually increasing the number of vehicle types with R-1234yf. While in the beginning, R-1234yf systems could only be found in Asian vehicle types, now also French, Italian and other European car manufacturers are announcing R-1234yf car models.
It is a given thing however, that the number of vehicles with R-1234yf refrigerant will only increase gradually for the time being. After all, the Directive only applies to new vehicle models, and not to successor models which are built on the same platform as their predecessor. Moreover, some manufacturers have succeeded to receive R-134a type approvals before the deadline of 1.1.2011. for cars that will not be released until 2-3 years from now. This was possible through a loophole in the Directive that was overseen by the EC.
During the fierce discussion that was held the past 6 months, Volkswagen claimed to prefer the use of R-744 ( CO2)refrigerant instead of R-1234yf. This was grist to the mill of various German car magazines, who used this as another argument against using R-1234yf. When it came out however, that the first CO2 systems are not to be expected until 2017-2018, the attention for this alternative disappeared as quickly as it had emerged.
The question however is in how far 2017-2018 is a feasible time frame at all, and, even more important, whether CO2 has the potential to become a worldwide recognized refrigerant. For sure, CO2 may be the most environment friendly refrigerant, from a technical point of view it does differ significantly from R-134a and R-1234yf systems as we know them now. One of the most striking differences are the pressure levels which range between 30 and 120 bar in case of CO2, setting completely different standards to the service of these systems. In other words, again new training programs and workshop equipment. It is also expected that CO2 systems will be 150-200 Euro more expensive on the manufacturer’s level. This is due to the more expensive components which have to resist higher pressures. On top of that, the production of CO2 components may mean new production tools and machines for their manufacturers. Not really aspects which will please vehicle manufacturers in present times where new car sales are dropping in Europe and cost levels have to be cut.
What should not be overlooked either, is that CO2 systems are significantly less efficient in small cars during high ambient temperatures. A combination of car types and weather circumstances which are not uncommon in Asian markets. This phenomenon is related to the fairly high degree of power that a CO2 A/C compressor consumes at high ambient temperatures, while the maximum size of the gas cooler is restrained by the size of the car. It may therefore well be, that particularly manufacturers of small vehicles for the world’s hot regions, may have serious doubts in adopting CO2 refrigerant. In other words, it is far from sure that CO2 can count on a unanimous support from the world’s car manufacturers. If this will prove to be the case , auto A/C service may have to prepare for a three, or even four-refrigerant era.