European Commission launches yet another study of R-1234yf refrigerant
by Jacques Gordon
So much and yet so little has happened over the past year. To review:
2006: The European Commission rules that as of January 2011, new-design vehicle platforms sold in Europe must use air conditioning refrigerant with a Global Warming Potential no higher than 150. The requirement extends to all new vehicles in January 2017.
2009: The European Commission accepts R-1234yf as meeting the requirement. The OEM and aftermarket industries prepare to switch to a new universal A/C refrigerant.
2011: Availability of R-1234yf is delayed, so enforcement of the rule is postponed to January 2013.
September 25, 2012: Even though they have already begun using R-1234yf, Daimler announces that in-house testing shows it can cause a fire in a crash. They decide to continue using R-134a despite EC regulations until a suitable alternative can be developed.
October 2012: SAE International launches a fourth Cooperative Research Program (CRP) specifically to address Daimler’s claims. All OEMs are (again) invited to participate.
October 2012: Other German automakers announce solidarity with Daimler, but with no new platforms scheduled for release this year, they are not in violation of the law.
Spring 2013: The German KBA (federal motor transport authority) begins their own vehicle testing program to investigate refrigerant flammability. Meanwhile, Daimler is granted an extension of type approval for three Mercedes-Benz models, effectively back-dating those platforms and allowing them to continue using R-134a under German law.
June 2013: The EU Industry Commissioner begins formal infringement procedures, giving the German government ten weeks to initiate sanctions against Daimler for not complying with EU law. Meanwhile, the SAE Cooperative Research Program reports the risks posed by R-1234yf are “well below” those commonly accepted in a vehicle. The report calls Daimler’s test “unrealistic,” saying it was designed to increase the possibility of fire in a collision.
July 2013: France refuses to register three Mercedes-Benz models for sale in that country. Germany pressures other EU countries to weaken or postpone implementation of lower CO2 emissions limits.
August 2013: Although the German KBA finds “no serious risk” in using R-1234yf, the German government supports Daimler’s decision to continue using R-134a. Thus begins a formal process giving the European Commission 10 weeks to respond. Toyota, wary of industry uncertainty, announces they will delay switching to the new refrigerant. Meanwhile, a French court overturns the government’s ban on registering new Mercedes-Benz models.
November 2013: The European Commission Joint Research Centre decides to review the German KBA report with all stakeholders. Although most believe the report finds no risk in using R-1234yf refrigerant, Daimler believes it confirms their position.
That’s where things stand one year after Daimler decided to go their own way. Most of the auto industry is either using or prepared to begin using R-1234yf, while waiting to see how the European Commission will enforce their own regulations. That decision may impact the future of mobile A/C technology, and maybe even the future of the European Union itself.
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