BMW quits from working group for new air-con refrigerant

Article by Anita Panait, on February 8, 2013

BMW has quit from an automotive industry research program probing the safety of a potential new air conditioning refrigerant after disagreeing with the test methods employed. With the backing of the international Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the Cooperative Research Program (CRP) is being conducted to investigate the safety of a proposed new refrigerant, the HFO-1234yf, which European regulators want carmakers to use to minimize atmospheric emissions that could cause global warming.

Flammability tests conducted by Daimler in 2012 sparked safety concerns on the use of the refrigerant, saying that HFO-1234yf releases a toxic gas when it burns. Daimler’s concerns led to the formation of the CRP working group.

Daimler as well as fellow German carmaker Audi has already left the CRP working group. A spokesman for BMW said Wednesday that the carmaker has ended its observer role in the CRP working group, adding that the company is continuing its own internal research into the issue.

The spokesman noted that they are not saying that test results are wrong, but they are not convinced the methods applied are sufficient to achieve “a definitive conclusion that guarantees high safety standards.”

The CRP working group was due to issue its next report in the middle of February. The working group will publish the final findings in the second quarter of 2013. The production of HFO-1234yf, being developed by Honeywell and DuPont, could lead to a billion dollar monopoly starting in 2017 when a phase-out of current refrigerants is complete.

The HFO-1234yf is developed by Honeywell International and DuPont Co. and is the only coolant that complies with new European Union climate guidelines. The new coolant, however, has been the center of a dispute between Honeywell and Daimler.

As per Daimler, a mixture of HFO-1234yf and air-conditioning compressor oil released under the hood of a car could cause fire on the hot surface of an engine and the release of a deadly gas. This was discovered during a field test conducted by Daimler’s engineers.

General Motors, however, made known its intentions to launch the new refrigerant in its vehicles. Curt Vincent, GM’s engineering manager for new refrigerants, remarked that the carmaker did more crash tests as well as computer simulations after Daimler revealed the fire risks related to the refrigerant.

Vincent told Automotive News that no safety problems were noted after the vehicles with the coolant were subjected to crash tests, computer simulations and thermal analysis. He added that other researchers have attempted to duplicate Daimler’s finding but so far, there’s nothing of concern.

Both GM’s Vincent and Honeywell Vice President Terrence Hahn quipped that a research group of 13 automakers has reaffirmed its previous findings that there are no safety risks linked to HFO-1234yf.

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