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Preparing for another A/C season

Monday, April 18, 2016 - 06:00
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While attending the annual Mobile Air Conditioning Society’s training event and trade show earlier this year, I came to a sudden realization. For the past few years, I’ve been reporting on the impending demise of R134a and those refrigerants that were going to be the likely replacements. And my, how time flies! Without retelling the entire story, let me give you the short version so that you may better understand where we are today – and what the impact on you and your shop will be.

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A look back

Several years ago, the folks in Europe decided that R134a was a bad thing for the environment and passed a mandate requiring the OEMs to come up with an alternative if they wanted to continue to sell cars in their market. To our initial relief, these rules didn’t apply to the U.S. market. One rule that did apply, however, was the increasingly stringent CAFE requirements that OEMs had to meet. And one way to meet those requirements, in lieu of actual improvements in fuel economy, was to make other systems on their cars “greener,” and that included adopting these new refrigerants.

One highlight of the MACS event is the trade show exhibits, which were well attended this year.

Well, refrigerant (singular) may be more accurate. The one candidate that eventually rose to the top and gained nearly universal acceptance was one produced jointly by DuPont and Honeywell — HFO1234yf, also known as R1234yf. There is still much debate over the mildly flammable classification of the new gas, but OEMs across the board have spent millions on testing the safety of R1234yf under every conceivable condition they could imagine. Now, with three years and millions of miles of actual use on these systems, those dollars have proven to be a wise investment with no safety issues related to the new gas reported to date.

I only mention this issue to bring you this next tidbit of information. It is no secret in the industry that the good folks at Daimler took exception to using the new replacement, insisting it was unsafe and instead, continuing with its development of another alternative, CO2, also known as R744. The environmentalists love the idea, because the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of R744 is 1, the lowest rating you can get. But some members of the SAE Interior Climate Control committee point out that there are drawbacks to the use of CO2 in cars. One is the high system pressures needed for the system to work, nearly 10 times what you’re used to in today’s R134a systems. Another is the higher cost of producing these systems, and a third is the reported inefficiencies of the system when used in climates with high ambient conditions (like most of the southern United States). Regardless, Daimler has announced that it will start producing models equipped with R744 systems, starting with select MY2017 “E” and “S” class models offered for sale in Europe. Thankfully, though, there are no reported plans of sending these models to the U.S. market (yet).

ASA's Tony Molla was a featured speaker at the MACS confernce and shared his vision of the future challenges the industry faces.
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