Phase-out of R134A Refrigerant for Cars
By Betty Stephens
Environmental Protection Agency
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a pair of decisions that begin a changeover of the refrigerants that do the cooling in car air conditioners. Over the next few years, it will be out with the old (HFC-134a) and in with the new (HFO-1234yf). Cars will be cooled with less global warming.
Both chemicals are hydro fluorocarbons, but the 134a in a car today is a “super greenhouse gas” with 1,430 times the global warming kick, pound for pound, of carbon dioxide. The new refrigerant, 1234yf, has just 4 times the global warming potency of CO2 and cuts the climate damage from car air conditioning by more than 300-fold. Changing over to 1234yf is a big step forward, because car air conditioning is one of the biggest, leakiest, and fastest growing uses of HFCs worldwide. And if HFC growth is left unchecked, these chemicals are responsible for a major share of future climate change.
The other new alternative to R134A is HFO-1234YF, which has similar properties to R134A but meets the new European global warming standards. Refrigerant HFO-1234YF has a global warming potential rating as well as an ozone depletion rating, and as of yet, the HCO-1234YF is the only refrigerant that meets both EPA and European standards. HFO-1234YF is also a Class 2 flammable gas although slightly less flammable than the R152A.
Other Class 2 refrigerants found on the market, but not recommended for automotive use include R1143A, R142B and R143A. In February, after a long review, EPA approved 1234yf as an acceptable alternative for use in new cars. That action was supported by DuPont and Honeywell (who are ready to make the chemical), by most domestic and import automakers, and by NRDC. Two other compounds have also been approved, but car makers appear to favor 1234yf because it requires the smallest design changes to the air conditioning equipment.
Reaction among the car makers appears mostly positive. General Motors started using 1234yf in some 2013 models. Many other car companies are quietly making arrangements with chemical suppliers.
Car makers actually have incentives to act quickly, because switching refrigerants earns them significant credit towards meeting the global warming standards set under the Obama administration’s landmark Clean Car Peace Treaty. Those standards, applicable to 2012-2016 model cars, cover four greenhouse gases – CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and HFCs. Switching from 134a to 1234yf yields twice as much credit towards the “CO2-equivalent grams per mile” standard as merely cutting leakage of 134a.