Honeywell’s new refrigerant catches fire during Daimler testing

Article by Anita Panait, on December 18, 2012

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.

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