Yet another indication of how constantly changing the world of refrigerants is - and will probably continue to be for years to come - is reflected in the recent announcement that two major refrigerant manufacturers will be working together to come up with a new refrigerant that one sector of the comfort cooling industry is clamoring for.

And, yes, the clamor is government driven.

As published in a previous edition ofThe NEWS, DuPont and Honeywell together announced “a global joint development agreement to accelerate the development and commercialization of next generation, low global warming refrigerants for the automotive air conditioning industry.”

This is a new refrigerant for a sector that has been using HFC-134a for even longer than us folks on the stationary side, since the mobile folks had to get away from CFC-12 even sooner than we did. (Along the way, they said a solid ‘no thank you’ to using higher pressure HCFC-22 in cars and trucks, which is why they jumped from a CFC to an HFC.)

The only problem was that 134a had a high global warming potential according to many people of apparent influence in Europe. So, political pressure in Europe resulted in a mandate that cars made in Europe for that market must no longer use R-134a as new models enter the market in the 2011 to 2017 timeframe. That means if you’re a manufacturer showing a razzle-dazzle new model in 2011, it better not have R-134a; but if you hold off razzling and dazzling for a few years you can still use the refrigerant in your old models. By 2017 nothing better be coming off the assembly line in Europe with 134a.

Both DuPont and Honeywell had been working separately on refrigerants to replace R-134a in automotive and had been making periodic announcements on their respective projects. The teaming up of two behemoths signals a greater sense of urgency.

“Under the agreement DuPont and Honeywell will jointly identify, develop, test and qualify new low GWP refrigerants,” a joint press release said.

The project has several goals. One, as just noted, is a refrigerant that has a low enough global warming potential (GWP) to satisfy the environmentalists and legislators in Europe.

A second goal is to make the refrigerant “a near drop-in replacement that reduces the need for costly system redesign for the automotive industry,” according to the press release.

A third factor is cost-effectiveness, which itself has an interesting sub-plot to it.

There are those in Europe who think CO2 would work just fine as a refrigerant in automobiles and most any other place where HFCs are currently used. Those in the pro-fluorine refrigerant camp beg to differ especially when you get to issues of high pressure and making CO2 work in transcritical systems.

All this led Honeywell and DuPont to seek to “offer a more cost-effective industry transition versus CO2 technology.”

At this point I’m sure there are readers who are saying, “Why has he used up space talking about mobile air conditioning in Europe when I work on stationary equipment in North America and the a/c in my truck barely works anyhow?”

The answer goes back to the single most repetitive statement I have made for more than 20 years now: What happens in Europe doesn’t necessarily stay in Europe. To which I might add: What happens in mobile doesn’t just stay in mobile.

You all know my little morality tale: When Europe first said it wanted to get away from CFCs, we in North America said, “It won’t happen here.” When Europe then said it wanted to get rid of HCFCs, we in North America said, “It won’t happen here.”

Now Europe is officially after HFC-134a in automotive and ever rumbling and grumbling about a lot of different HFCs in stationary. Are we really ready to again say, “It won’t happen here”?

The good news in all this is how two major refrigerant manufacturers have pulled together to quickly move forward to find a solution to a challenging issue in automotive.

Should similar pressures arise on the stationary side, it is clear that there are already those in our industry who have indicated they are ready to deal with any challenges that come our way.

Publication date:05/07/2007