German automakers offer alternative to HFO-1234yf flammable refrigerant

Article by Anita Panait, on March 8, 2013

Daimler and other German carmakers made an initial move aimed at resolving a safety issue over a new air-conditioning refrigerant developed to meet a European Union mandate. Daimler disclosed that it had tasked its engineers with developing a completely new air-conditioning system that uses non-flammable carbon dioxide as an alternative to the HFO-1234yf refrigerant that has received favor from most of the auto industry.

According to Daimler research and development chief Thomas Weber, Audi, BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen had reached an agreement "to press ahead with this sustainable and safe solution" with Daimler.

Daimler claims that HFO-1234yf is a greater fire hazard than what other carmakers currently believe. Daimler’s critics -- which include HFO-1234yf’s producer Honeywell International – claimed that there are many other flammable materials under the hood of a car. They assaulted Daimler's refusal to use the more expensive yet climate-friendly HFO-1234yf as an attempt from the carmaker to save money.

Weber told Reuters during the Geneva Auto Show that Daimler would be willing to pay the EU compensation for violating the directive, but stopped short of calling it a "fine." The EU made a mandate to phase out the current R134a refrigerant starting in January 2013, with an outright ban in 2017.

To comply with the new climate change targets set by the EU, the auto industry agreed to use HFO-1234yf after tests concluded in 2009 showed that the refrigerant was safe. Daimler undertook its own tests following safety concerns from Germany's Federal Environment Agency. Daimler’s test concluded that there was no way its engineers could rule out the risk of a possible fire caused by HFO-1234yf, which also emits a highly toxic gas during combustion.

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