In response to the Kyoto Protocol, EU member states have begun an initiative to reduce the amount of hydrofluorocarbons emitted by the air-conditioning systems in automobiles, so that they can be in compliance with the necessary reduction in greenhouse gases required by the Protocol.  The EU has created Directive 2006/40/EC to ensure the uniformity of the effort and to avoid impeding the free movement of commerce between member countries.

Last week France’s administrative court overruled a ban on German engineered Mercedes automobiles for non-compliance with the EU ban on R134a.  The court held that banning the sale or registration of cars being sold with R134a as a coolant for the air-conditioning system could not be upheld when the ban was called into place because of suspicions that Daimler, the parent company for Mercedes, was circumventing technical rules for registration of cars using air-conditioning chemical R134a.  Article 5.4 of the Directive states that after January 1, 2011 member states will not be allowed to approve new cars that are to fitted with air-conditioning systems that will emit a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential of higher than 150.  R134a has a global warming potential of 1430.  France was concerned that Mercedes had registered cars prior to 2011 with R134a, but then, attempting to comply with regulations decided to switch to R1234yf, which is the only chemical that meets current Directive requirements.  However, after testing, Daimler found that R1234yf was combustible at a lower temperature than R134a and decided against using R1234yf in their vehicles, and returned to using R134a.

The Directive notes that at the time it was enacted, there were currently no cost-effective alternative chemicals on the market to replace R134a.  The Directive also noted that the time tables should be re-evaluated when a suitable replacement is discovered, as it may take longer to implement than originally hoped.

Several car companies are now looking for alternatives or putting off the switch to R1234yf until the risks involved are further defined.  Currently there are only two manufacturers of R1234yf, Honeywell and DuPont, and they are urging the speedy implementation of the EU Directive.  DuPont is confident that the risk associated with R1234yf is “nearly a million times lower than the risk related to car fires from all potential causes, and the risk is well below those commonly considered acceptable by the general public and regulatory agencies.”