The case of Dupont and Honeywell's refrigerant R-1234yf is doing the exact opposite of keeping things cool. The two chemical companies have spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars developing R-1234yf to replace R-134a, the new refrigerant shown to be 99.7-percent kinder to the environment than the one it is meant to succeed. Part of that development has been years of testing by governments, outside safety agencies and automakers to approve the chemical for use in cars. It passed the protocols necessary for the European Union to declare that new and significantly revised cars from 2013 onward needed to use R-1234yf, and mandated that every car as of 2017 must use it.

Enter Daimler AG. The automaker created a head-on collision test with a B-Class at their Sindelfingen test track that would lead to the pressurized refrigerant being sprayed on the engine. The result in 20 out of 20 test was that the refrigerant burst into flames as soon as it hit the hot engine, while Daimler says that R-134a does not catch fire in the same test. Another unexpected result of the R-1234yf test was the release of hydrogen flouride, a chemical far more deadly to humans than hydrogen cyanide, emitted in such amounts that it that turned the windshield white as it began to eat into the glass.

Said a Daimler engineer in a Reuters piece, "It was scarcely believable. The most complicated lab tests conducted using the most sensitive measuring instruments around found nothing and all we do is drive a car around a couple of times, open a tiny hole in the refrigerant line and the next thing you know the car is on fire." So Daimler said it wouldn't use the refrigerant, and it recalled the cars it had already shipped with R-1234yf.

Honeywell and Dupont pointed to the years of successful tests and accused Daimler of deliberately staging its test so that the car would catch fire – various fluids in an engine will catch fire if sprayed on the engine in a certain way – suggesting among other things that Daimler didn't want to pay the higher cost of the R-1234yf coolant. At least two other German and Austrian testing agencies have cautioned against the new chemical, a German firefighters organization has lobbied to have it banned while a rival German firefighters organization has cleared it for use, some German authorities are asking that automakers be given more time by the EU to conduct more tests, and it's reported that 13 carmakers have begun their own testing based on Daimler's initial findings.

A report in Bloomberg says that Volkswagen has joined Daimler in refusing to use R-1234yf in its cars. There aren't any 2013 VW models that fall under the EU mandate for use this year, so the fact that VW is speaking up means it wishes to lodge a vocal protest. Other automakers are still committed to the new chemical; Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC are still switching over in 2013, and Toyota in the EU has gone on record saying it hasn't found any safety issue with R-1234yf. The EU says it will enforce its decree, but no penalties have been mentioned for any automaker defying the order. Honeywell and Dupont are waiting to see what will happen, a Honeywell manager saying, "The key element for the EU government is forcing the implementation of their rule."


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 86 Comments
      bhtooefr
      • 1 Year Ago
      Really, R-744 is far better in every way except initial system cost. It's a more efficient refrigerant, it's cheaper, it's extremely safe (not at all flammable, and it exists (albeit as a waste product) in the human respiratory system - and, in a crash, you'll inhale less of it from a leaking AC system than you do from the existing exhaust systems of internal combustion vehicles), and it's better for the environment than HFO-1234yf in every way - both as far as the health effect of it being released to the atmosphere, and global warming potential (which is the whole reason for replacing R-134a). Oh, and production of R-744 sequesters CO2 (that would be because it *IS* CO2). But, R-744 isn't patentable, due to being a very old refrigerant (predating even R-12). And, it's not compatible with existing R-134a systems, unlike HFO-1234yf.
        stevefazek
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bhtooefr
        the problem is the system runs at 700-900 PSI on the high side as opposed to 70PSI for R134
      interruptive_cow
      • 1 Year Ago
      What I'm getting out of this is that there are rival German firefighters organizations. Do they have dance fights a la west side story?
      C.B.
      • 1 Year Ago
      It was always about the patents on the products anyway. Dupont and Honeywell paid out the Kazoo to get the old coolant done away with so they would have a monopoly on the new product. EPA is in bed with the big corporations on this one. Another scam on the public like selling Carbon credits.
      jvmd
      • 1 Year Ago
      It was reported in trade magazines two years ago that R-1234yf was flamable. It was postulated that a leak in an enclosed garage with a natural gas water heater near by could cause an explosion.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Year Ago
      Sounds like a euthenasia program for motorists.
      luialva
      • 1 Year Ago
      Going "green" makes sense and people support it when you actually save money ,it works as it should and safe but going green is a disaster when one of the above is missing. The toilets that save water come to mind which only caused more water to be used as more flushes were needed, the NY installed "save water" shower heads are another where countless simply took them off . I use those energy saver bulbs and save money in every months bill but much of the going green is junk.
      DooMMasteR
      • 1 Year Ago
      VW and Daimler both developed CO2 cooling systems for the market and then got overrun by the stupid proprietary and dangerous alternative… no wonder they want all their work and development to pay off in some way…
        jz78817
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DooMMasteR
        CO2 works as a refrigerant but requires substantially higher pressures than the refrigerants we're using now. That would require complete redesign of the air conditioning system. Larger compressors, heavier duty piping, heavier evaporators and condensers, etc.
      00Kuma00
      • 1 Year Ago
      Why does it seem like more governments are trying to pass laws and products that are so dangers to people's lives and freedom?
        lordedardstark1
        • 1 Year Ago
        @00Kuma00
        Like fluorescent light bulbs? I like the idea, I use them and recycle them but the average person does not know how to properly handle them. The EU needs to find a better solution that Fluorescents before they make the common man use them.
          utzorro
          • 1 Year Ago
          @lordedardstark1
          The same analogy popped into my mind regarding this issue....about how environmentalists try to "save the environment" and end up making things worse off. I can't wait to see how much toxic mercury is in our landfills and drinking water in the next 10 years from all these energy saving flourescent lightbulbs designed to save the environment. It's also similar to how much air pollution is created in the process of making large car batteries for hybrids. People in this world, especially law makers, are dumb.
      don917
      • 1 Year Ago
      Sounds like the lawyers will already be lining up on this one !!! This may pay off better than poorly placed gas tanks in pickup trucks !!!
      smac1115
      • 1 Year Ago
      The EU has implemented the rule and will conduct their own tests showing it is safe and the German tests were wrong. It is "environmentally correct" so it will be moved forward by the EU, until cars in accidents burst into flames and/or exposed accident victims to high levels of hydrogen flouride. Then they will call out Daimler AG and blame them for the problem. Daimler AG will then pay out a massive settlement due to government pressure, putting them out of business in the process. The old "government creates a problem then fixes it" scenario...
      adultswimer123
      • 1 Year Ago
      As an Air Conditioning and Heating contractor for the past 30 plus years and in Research and Development as a Chemical engineer,.The only safe but the most effective refrigerants ever made and are outlasting all the new fake crap was R-22, used to cool in homes,and R-12,Used to cool in vehicals. All others are made only for money and greed.And the US Government knows this. R-134a for use in cars should be banned.And R-410a for home use,is not working at all.
        jz78817
        • 1 Year Ago
        @adultswimer123
        R12 and R22 decompose into phosgene when exposed to fire. they aren't *that* safe either.
      ROBINHOOD
      • 1 Year Ago
      As far as Refrigerants go, they are not a problem and never have been. I spent 40 years working with them. What Bob says is true. Refrigerants are heavier than air. People have drowned in Refrigerants. This all started with yet another imaginary crisis supposidly Man made, the Ozone layer. Congress in a knee jerk reaction to this crisis said well ban all Refrigerants! Dupont and others said you can't do that, put a Tax on them. This has been the largest financial boon for Refridgerant makers ever! Is there an Ozone problem? Maybe but it isn't man made. Nasa even got in on it but I couldn't find any info on how big of a hole the Shuttle blows and burns in the Ozone layer. Remember all Government Agencys, and many Scientist and Research Company's work off of Government Grants. No problem to solve, no checkaroo. This has been going on since 1978.
    • Load More Comments