Honeywell and partner DuPont Co. have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, market and produce HFO-1234yf, a new kind of coolant or refrigerant that meets new European Union climate guidelines. However, field testing conducted by engineers at Daimler and its Mercedes-Benz unit in early August 2012 revealed some shocking test results.
The engineers simulated a leak in the air conditioning line of a Mercedes B class, and released a fine mixture of the HFO-1234yf refrigerant and A/C compressor oil, which sprayed across the vehicle's turbo-charged 1.6-liter engine. But then, the substance ignited as soon as it struck the hot surface, thereby releasing a toxic, corrosive gas as it burned.
Then, the vehicle’s windshield turned milky white as lethal hydrogen fluoride started disintegrating the glass. Stefan Geyer, a senior Daimler engineer who conducted the tests, said they were “frozen in shock.”
He remarked that the engineer “needed a day to comprehend” what they had just seen. The shocking results only suggest a single conclusion – that the HFO-1234yf refrigerant new product posed a risk to car passengers.
The discovery triggered a battle between Daimler and Honeywell, filled with mudslinging, conspiracy theories and spin-doctoring. The discovery of the dangers posed by the refrigerant could jeopardize a possible lucrative business.
Concerns about greenhouse gases have compelled EU legislators to order the phasing out of the long-time industry standard, R134a, from January 2013. By 2017, every single air-conditioned car produced for sale in Europe, amounting to around 14 million units annually -- could be using around $70 worth of HFO-1234yf.