Auto Service World
Feature   April 2, 2006   by Auto Service World

International Agreement

Opens Door to Alternative Refrigerants

In a move designed to reduce barriers to refrigerants being developed to replace R-134a, European and U.S. groups have agreed to harmonize important refrigerant regulations.

The moves occurred this February at the 2006 Mobile Air Conditioning Summit in Saalfelden, Austria.

The European Commission, in cooperation with the U.S. EPA Mobile Air Conditioning Climate Protection Partnership and the California Air Resources Board, announced their intention to harmonize Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) testing and engineering standards. They further agreed to work cooperatively to remove all barriers worldwide to the refrigerants allowed by the European Union “MAC-Directive.”

While it is early to predict the full impact, it is expected that the moves will open the door for the use of carbon dioxide (CO2) and R-152a as refrigerants.

Research is well on its way for CO2 systems as well as R152a (whose acceptance suffers within industry somewhat as a result of flammability concerns), but until now this research has been largely occurring only for the European market.

Currently certain regulations, such as those regarding flammability, would have restricted the use of some alternatives that are currently within EU rules. This could have created a divergence of systems, with those in Europe being designed and constructed to conform to the outright ban on greenhouse gas refrigerants(which eliminates R-134a), while North American systems might be forced to stay with R-134a.

According to the groups, harmonized standards will help protect the climate and will reduce the consumer cost of environmentally superior vehicle mobile air conditioning systems.

One immediate goal of this collaboration is to amend the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) refrigerant containment standard to satisfy EU requirements that prescribe maximum refrigerant leakage rates for mobile air conditioners in cars sold in Europe after 2008.

“On 31 January the EU agreed to phase out the emissions of refrigerant greenhouse gases from mobile air conditioning systems until 2017. Our intention to harmonize global standards to limit emissions is part of our commitment to the fight against climate change,” says Gnter Verheugen, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for enterprise and industry policy.

“The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has worked closely with the automotive community in crafting standards that will reduce refrigerant emissions, increase fuel efficiency, and improve vehicle reliability. We are proud that California can join with the European Commission and others in applauding the global standard that will certify the environmental performance of vehicle air conditioning,” says Alberto Ayala, manager, Emissions Control Technology Section.

“SAE is a global association of engineers who work through consensus to improve safety and performance of automotive technology. SAE J-2727 will certify vehicle air conditioning systems that help protect the environment with quality parts and skilled assembly that reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” says Ward Atkinson, Chair of the SAE Climate Control Committee.

The cooperation involves correlating the numerical score of the current SAE J-2727 standard with estimates of emissions (grams/year) based on a new SAE standard (J-2763) test procedure for determining R-134a leakage rates for mobile air conditioning systems, using a mini-shed test. The California Air Resources Board will accept SAE-2727 certification when calculating credits for emissions reductions under its pending climate protection laws, and it is anticipated that SAE-2727 will be adopted by regulatory authorities worldwide.

“The SAE standard is the next step in achieving the goal of the Mobile Air Conditioning Climate Protection Partnership to reduce the emissions of refrigerants by at least 50 per cent and to improve energy efficiency by at least 30 per cent. It is proof that we are well on our way to meeting those ambitious goals,” says Stephen O. Andersen, U.S. EPA Climate Protection Partnerships Division.

Honeywell Develops Alternative

In a related story, Honeywell announced that it has produced a developmental refrigerant for automotive air conditioning applications that will meet 2011 European Union environmental standards for reducing use of global warming potential (GWP) substances, while also working with systems designed for R-134a systems.

Honeywell’s new low-GWP refrigerant was announced at the Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) Summit, where the harmonization initiative was also announced.

“The results of our initial performance, toxicity, and flammability testing are encouraging,” says Richard Preziotti, vice-president and general manager for Honeywell’s Fluorine Products business. “The testing has shown that our new technology can be used as a direct replacement for HFC-134a with minimal reengineering of automotive systems. We believe it is a more practical and cost-effective solution than CO2.”

Honeywell was to provide additional details on its new technology in March at the Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan (JSAE) Automotive Air Conditioning Conference in Tokyo, but despite several attempts, no further details on the refrigerant could be obtained.