European carmakers: A heated row over coolants

Cool air, hot heads

THE European Union loves its acronyms and initials. So officials in Brussels must be relishing the battle between R134a and R1234yf. These two refrigerants for cars’ air-conditioning systems are at the centre of an industrial and environmental row between the French government and Daimler, the German maker of Mercedes cars. This week a French court awarded the latest round in the dispute to Mercedes.In 2006 the EU recognised that the fluid in air-conditioners was a powerful greenhouse gas. R134a, the most commonly used compound, has about 1,400 times the effect, per kilogram, as carbon dioxide. So the EU passed a law saying that coolants used in new models of vehicle after January 2011 should have a “global warming potential” of no more than 150. Honeywell and DuPont, two chemicals companies, came up with R1234yf, which complied with the law. SAE International, a body of automotive engineers, deemed it safe.But last September Daimler announced that in its own tests the new stuff burst into flames. New SAE tests found this risk “exceptionally remote”, and Daimler’s tests “unrealistic”. The German authority that…

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