Refrigerant development revs up car ac market

REFRIGERANT producers and car air conditioning suppliers are locked in a contest to come up with a replacement for R134a in car air conditioning systems.
Under the forthcoming European F-Gas regulations R134a is to be banned in all new vehicle by 2011, and in all new cars by 2017. Until now, much of the work on alternatives, which must have GWPs lower than 150, has centred on CO2, but critics say that this would probably require radical changes and the costly redesign of conventional automotive ac systems.

However, at a special Mobile Air Conditioner Summit in Austria in February, leading car ac component suppliers Behr, Obrist, Valeo and Visteon all showed cars using CO2 as the refrigerant.

It is estimated that some 100,000 cars using CO2 air conditioning could be sold in Europe by 2008, rising to two million by 2011.

Attendees at the conference backed CO2 over the flammable HFC R152a that had also been put forward as an alternative.

Pre-empting the conference, both DuPont and Honeywell announced the development of low GWP, HFC refrigerants as possible alternatives.

DuPont is said to be carrying out final tests on a new batch of HFC refrigerants for vehicle air conditioning systems which may eventually find wider use in air conditioning and refrigeration applications. At the same time, rival Honeywell chose the EC-hosted Mobile Air Conditioning Summit to announce the development of a new patented refrigerant.

Both manufacturers say their new refrigerants have a low GWP and are expected to be compatible with conventional R134a automotive ac systems with only minor modifications.

DuPont says that its refrigerants will be available within three to five years, in time to meet the F-gas deadline. They are currently undergoing performance, toxicity and safety testing, and are expected to be non-flammable. According to the chemical companies these newly developed refrigerants are expected to offer similar performance to R134a and would not require a complete system redesign.

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