The issue of which refrigerant to choose in next-generation vehicles continues to gain momentum as some weeks after German national TV channel ARD reported on the issue, another media has picked up on it. In its automotive programme “startklar” aired last Sunday, the South-West regional TV channel SWR (Südwestdeutscher Rundfunk) summed up the current state of play regarding MAC and warned against unsolved issues regarding the flammability and toxicity of competing chemical alternatives.
“This is a burning air conditioning, more specifically an AC containing a newly developed refrigerant. Its name: 1234yf.” This is how the 3 minutes report starts while showing the already widely known images of a car submerged in flames – the result of real-life simulations of a car accident performed some time ago by one of Germany’s leading environmental groups Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH). The images are quickly followed by clear statements of DUH’s President Jürgen Resch explaining the consequences on human health that burning HFO-1234yf would have. According to Resch, only some drops of the resulting decomposition product hydrogen fluoride, one of the most toxic substances known, would suffice to kill humans.
“And yet this substance may end up in air conditioning systems. How is this possible?”, the SWR report keeps on asking. After an explanation of the EU MAC Directive, mandating a phase-out of currently used refrigerants, the programme warns against the prolonged use of R134a. Through constant leakage R134a leads to the same climate-damaging effect as tailpipe emissions from 2 million cars per year.
The natural refrigerant alternative CO2 (R744) has been developed to serial production by automotive suppliers. Frank Obrist, founder and CEO of Austrian R744 expert OBRIST Engineering, explains the closed cycle where CO2 is taken from the atmosphere to work in a MAC system to be then released back to the atmosphere after a completed life cycle. Although CO2 complies with the EU MAC Directive and is not flammable, it would incur higher initial costs for developing the systems.
“These higher costs the car manufacturers want to avoid, it seems. And that’s why the chemical refrigerant came into play once more although the industry had already favoured CO2,” SWR concludes, pointing to the seemingly lower costs of the drop-in solution 1234yf. However, given the risks of the chemical, German media demand a clear commitment from the German automotive industry. The answer given by a VDA (German automotive association) spokesperson that Germans will comply with all legislation, is “soft as wax”, as SWR puts it.