A BIT OF BACKGROUNDIn the fall of 2005, there was a great deal of fuss in Europe over the long-term viability of HFC refrigerants. Environmentalists wanted to get rid of all HFCs, including R-404A, which was being widely accepted in commercial refrigeration and R-410A, which was just catching on in air conditioning applications.
The HVACR industry in Europe beat back that effort when it came to HFCs in stationary equipment. But a casualty of the battle was the use of HFCs in automotive air conditioning in Europe starting in 2017. That means no more use of R-134a.
I should mention here that air conditioning is an important consideration for automobiles in much of Europe. The Scandinavian countries may not consider it all that critical, but most of Europe, including France which experienced a serious heat wave a few summers ago and Italy with its long, hot summers in the south, consider it vital for business and tourism.
So refrigerant researchers and manufacturers started looking for something that was not 134a and not even an HFC. They basically decided that R-744 (CO2) - which was catching on in stationary equipment - could not work in automotive due to pressure issues. (Such pressure questions also caused researchers to take a pass on HCFC-22 in cars back in the days of the CFC-12 phaseout - thus opening the door for HFC-134a.)
There are now at least a couple of manufacturers who have announced that they have come up with refrigerants that are not a CFC, HCFC, or HFC, and that they say will work for automotive air conditioning. In fact, as best as I can tell at the time this column is being written in early December, the still proprietary refrigerants are not even HCs, as is CO2 and other halogen-free refrigerants.
One manufacturer of one of those new refrigerants is DuPont who is labeling its refrigerant DP-1. The company put the refrigerant in a car that had a R-134a air conditioning system. No changes were made to that vehicle, yet DuPont said DP-1 created cooling. According to a statement from the company, using the new refrigerant “will not require extensive redesign of automotive air conditioning systems or a major overhaul” of current models of cars that have been using R-134a.
At about the same time, Honeywell also announced it has come up with a viable alternative.
Again, at the time this is being written it is not clear how similar or dissimilar the refrigerants are. (In fact, at the IKK expo last October in Germany a colleague of mine from the British trade press said he had been diligently searching Websites related to patents and hadn’t seen anything at that time related to these new refrigerants.)
Eventually, the new refrigerants will be described in detail and more than likely one will become the one most accepted by the European automotive industry.
WHAT'S THE POINTSo what’s my point regarding this technical talk? Well, the finding of a new non-CFC, non-HCFC, non-HFC refrigerant that can take heat from where it is not wanted and create cooling causes me to wonder if such a refrigerant might have applications beyond automotive air conditioning. Could it work in stationary HVACR?
For the record, no one is committing to that - or really wanting to go that direction. Worldwide, the industry is happy with HFCs and expects the now-familiar family of HFC refrigerants to be a long-term option for stationary equipment.
Should HFCs ever face a serious challenge some time in the future in stationary applications, I suspect CO2 will get an even harder look.
But now beyond HFCs and beyond CO2 there lurks a mysterious refrigerant that could find itself eventually thrust into a much broader spotlight.