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Daimler looks exposed as German authorities confirm ‘no material risk’ of new refrigerant

The German KBA transport authority has issued its report into R1234yf, bearing out the industry view that the refrigerant is safe for automotive use.

However, Daimler said it continues to believe the KBA report does confirm its position

The European Commission is now studying the results of the German transport authority’s tests of the R1234yf refrigerant before it makes a judgement on whether to censure Germany for its defiance of the Mobile Air Conditioning Directive, in supporting Daimler’s position to continue using noncompliant R134a.

 Carmakers are understood to have asked for the EC review, to ensure that the KBA report was not politically motivated.

However, the KBA has recommended further examination of the new refrigerant  to limit risks as much as possible.

According to the Reuters agency, a negative report from the KBA could have seen the rest of the carmakers reviewing their options.

KBA carried out tests using three different levels of severity and concluded that it did not comprise a serious danger.

“No sufficient proof was found with the cars tested that would have hardened the suspicion of a serious danger as defined by the product safety law,” the KBA said in its report.

Its most severe test, Stage 3, showed R1234yf was more dangerous than R134a, but it conceded that it was not entirely clear what conditions were necessary for the Honeywell product to become a serious hazard.

Had the KBA determined a material risk existed as defined by Germany’s product safety laws, it could have triggered a recall of all cars on the road currently using 1234yf.

The agency had determined that in particularly severe crashes, one of the four models tested had burst into flames and emitted a considerable amount of toxic hydrogen fluoride (HF) gas in the process.

However, refrigerant producers say that such a risk is something that can be ‘designed out’ of the car, as other carmakers have already done.

“Non-negligible” amounts of HF were also detected in two other test crashes, even if the refrigerant itself did not appear to ignite, according to the KBA.

A comprehensive final report is due for mid-September, Reuters reports.

The refrigerant’s joint producers have greeted the news as thorough vindication.

Honeywell’s spokesman said: “KBA’s tests again demonstrate that using HFO-1234yf creates no serious risks, and as a result it will not pursue action under Germany’s Product Safety Act. With the exception of Daimler, there is broad consensus that HFO-1234yf poses no greater risk than HFC-134a in cars.”

“We acknowledge that KBA was put in the unenviable position of devising its own test because of a single automaker’s decision not to comply with the MAC) Directive. KBA’s results are not surprising because automobile manufacturers routinely incorporate materials that are far more highly flammable than HFO-1234yf into their vehicle designs, including motor oil, automotive transmission fluid, radiator antifreeze, brake fluid, and compressor lubricant – not to mention fuel.”

“Honeywell and others have previously expressed concerns over KBA’s testing protocols, which did not follow industry standards. SAE International, the world’s most respected automotive engineering organization, has used globally accepted protocols to complete comprehensive Cooperative Research Programs (CRPs) to evaluate HFO-1234yf. Those programs have definitively determined that HFO-1234yf is safe.”

“The CRPs included technical experts at automotive manufacturers and suppliers around the world, and used a wide range of information and data, including actual crash test results. These studies also employed fault-tree analysis, which evaluates the probability of a fire or other adverse conditions based on real data. This type of analysis has been proven to be a more accurate evaluation than any single test, which may be unintentionally flawed, biased or misleading.”

Joseph T. Martinko, Du Pont’s global business manager for the HFO range, said: DuPont was not surprised that the KBA testing “produced no adequate evidence of a serious risk” related to HFO-1234yf.  This confirms DuPont’s high level of confidence that the refrigerant can be used safely in automotive air conditioning.  This has been proven by years of cooperative testing conducted by automakers from around the world.” 

“All industry-sponsored risk assessments have determined that neither flammability nor hydrogen fluoride formation related to HFO-1234yf present a significant safety concern.  Individual car-makers have also conducted testing that confirms they can safely use the refrigerant.  Automakers from around the world working under SAE International concluded that the risk of vehicle fire caused by HFO-1234yf is only three chances in a trillion.”

“DuPont welcomes the proposal of the European Commission to conduct an independent review of all testing conducted to date, and we believe this will help bring clarity to a debate that has continued for far too long.”

However perhaps unsurprisingly Daimler said it believes the KBA report actually justifies its own decision to continue using R134a.

With the evidence now received from several sources, all industry eyes are on the European Commission to act decisively.

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