Update from Saalfelden: 1234yf vs. R744 (+ Presentations)

By R744.com team, Feb 16, 2009, 19:22 5 minute reading

The annual gathering of Mobile Air Conditioning experts in Saalfelden, Austria, brought no new answers about the safety, costs and technical maturity of chemical refrigerants, but insights into the pressures the chemical industry faces. By contrast, an expected early electrification of automobiles has put CO2 again in the spotlight. New: CO2 Presentations attached

Most of the 180 participants gathering in Saalfelden from 11-12 February agreed that this year’s event has been the poorest in terms of technical information provided, with a clear overrepresentation of political messages and updates by chemical companies. However, some interesting insights into the state of play regarding next-generation refrigerant alternatives could be gained at the VDA Winter Meeting 2009, especially when it came to medium term prospects for refrigerants in electrified cars, the mounting cost pressure in the chemical industry, and the development of yet another low GWP miracle solution.

As a key message emerged that CO2 is the most viable solution for plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and full electric (EVs) cars currently high on automakers’ agendas and expected to hit the roads all around the world over the next decade. Given that the crisis the industry is facing is “cutting deeper than ever before” – as observed by Dr. Stefan Wöhrl, VDA representative, in his welcome address - the need for innovative approaches to thinking has become a necessity to survive, putting the electrification of vehicles to the forefront of development plans. As a result, a questionnaire distributed among participants revealed that CO2 (R744) was considered to be the best alternative candidate to develop an efficient heat pump function requested in PHEVs and EVs. A large majority of 78 voted for R744, while only 17 thought the chemical alternative HFO-1234yf would be the best solution. Similarly, another two questions about the technological maturity, the production readiness and safety of 1234yf in face of the approaching 2011 EU regulation deadline unveiled the industry’s scepticism, with 70 and 78 respectively out of a total of 99 respondents missing a proof that 1234yf could comply with all requirements.

Policy: EU deadline will be kept, US SNAP review still in progress

The presentation of Agnieszka Kozakiewicz from the European Commission, who couldn’t unfortunately attend the event, was held by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) representative Karen Thundiyil. Two main messages were repeated: the Commission has no intention to change the 2011 deadline for the MAC Directive, and test procedures to evaluate the MAC fuel efficiency will be subject to legislation expected later this year.

The EPA repeated that the SNAP (Significant New Alternatives Policy) Program evaluates refrigerant alternatives to ozone-depleting substances and “does not prefer one choice of refrigerant above another; rather, it provides OEMs "safe refrigerant options”. The deferred decision on CO2, pending since 2006, is expected sometime this year. Talking about the process for new chemical alternatives, Thundiyil pointed out that all new chemicals must be reviewed by EPA's Pre-Manufacture Notice Program (PMN), which serves as a gatekeeper for new chemicals. SNAP is now waiting for the PMN approval which could put limits on the use of 1234yf if it finds toxicology issues. In addition, all flammable refrigerants would need to undergo a public comment process and rulemaking and no venting would be allowed – all increasing the costs of the proposed refrigerant.

Chemicals: A new blend, but no new answers

The first day held three presentations in a row on the non-natural refrigerant HFO-1234yf. Asked about the suitability of the flammable substance for electric-driven vehicles, chemical company DuPont could not “share details”. Similar answers were given for the three major remaining question marks about price, flammability issues, and additional servicing costs for 1234yf, revealing the chemical industry’s deliberate policy to buy time and delay the development of more viable alternatives. Comments from the audience drew attention to the fact that 1234yf would raise additional concerns in the field of battery cooling needed in electric vehicles, as flammability and chemical reactions would pose major risks.

Chemical maker Arkema shed light on major trends within the chemical industry, where the days of one refrigerant fits all were over and more complex blends would need to be developed for specialised applications. Classified as “highly flammable” by EU legislation, 1234yf would be subject to ATEX level 2 management, meaning that along the whole value chain from production to recovery antispark equipment would be needed. Similarly, for servicing, spark-free tools were a minimum requirement. The increased costs for storage and distribution would further raise the cost of 1234yf.

The 1234yf presentations were followed by chemical maker Ineos presenting its new chemical alternative AC4. After AC1. AC2 and AC3 were rejected because of toxicology, Ineos is confident to enter the race again with this new blend. However, it already announced that AC4 would be as flammable as 1234yf and that it would not be ready by 2011. Interestingly, Ineos attacked its competitors DuPont, Honeywell, and Arkema by stating that the 1234yf chemistry would be very complicated and too costly to produce, especially not by 2011. The chemical industry would “have to resist the temptation to make results better with regards to toxicity and flammability issues”, Ineos concluded.

CO2: Ready for Production

Linde presented its R744 odorized refrigerant to be used in the beverage, food, and welding industries. The company expects further market growth and plans for a supply of odorized CO2 by early 2010. To avoid using standard CO2 in refilling, the system would be equipped with a special valve. Linde confirmed that, including the odorizer and after sales service, the costs of R744 would still be lower than that of R134a.

OBRIST Engineering talked about the comparison of R744 and R134a in a VW Touran. An introduction was given by Wolfgang Plehn from the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA), who confirmed that the UBA “strongly supports VDA members to use R744 in MAC”, and would look forward to seeing the first car with a CO2 system. Having worked for over 20 years to remove chemicals from the environment, Plehn referred to the flammability tests for 1234yf and the release of toxic gases shown on German TV last year. Obrist presented test results that CO2 outperformes R134a by 14% at 35°C. In terms of CO2 emissions per km, the R744 system would save 10 g/km whereas R134a would add 22 g/km.

Scandinavia’s largest research organisation SINTEF presented an air-reversing air conditioning system, the Environmental Control Unit, viable for many global areas, including China.


By R744.com team (@r744)

Feb 16, 2009, 19:22

Related stories

Sign up to our Newsletter

Fill in the details below