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EPA Opens Door to Consumer Use of New, Eco-friendly Refrigerant

Aftermarket Business World
December 23, 2013

In November, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continued to clear a path for use in the U.S. of the new motor vehicle air conditioning refrigerant HFO-1234yf.

The agency said that states could not consider the refrigerant, which OEMs have started to use, a volatile organic chemical (VOC). That means states cannot limit HFO-1234yf’s use as part of an ozone/smog reduction strategy.

A Honeywell petition submitted to the EPA in 2009 led to the EPA decision. Honeywell and DuPont, the other major marketer of HFO-1234yf, are selling it as a replacement for HFC-134a in motor vehicle air-conditioners (MVAC). HFC–134a has been used in automobile MVAC systems across the industry since 1993. But HFC-134a has a global warming potential (GWP) of 1430, much higher than HFO1234yf's GWP of 4.

Car makers selling into Europe already face a European Union Directive mandating OEMs use AC refrigerants with a GWP below 150 starting last January. Use of HFO1234yf in the U.S. is being spurred by the EPA/DOT car mileage/greenhouse gas (GHG) requirements, which give automakers credits for use of green air conditioning refrigerants.

At about the same time the EPA was excluding HFO1234yf as a VOC, it was publishing final rule making changes in the Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) for HFO1234yf. These SNURS dictate what hoops manufacturers have to jump through before selling a new chemical. In many instances, distribution is limited. That was the case with the original SNUR for HFO1234yf issued in 2010.

According to Michael Conlon, the outside counsel for the Automotive Refrigeration Products Institute (ARPI), that 2010 SNUR effectively banned sales of HRO1234yf in the aftermarket. The new SNUR the EPA issued on November 1, 2013 took an important first step toward reversing that decision. "It was important to get this new SNUR because we could not have gone for a new SNAP rule without it," he explains.

SNAP stands for the EPA's Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program. It tells users of new refrigerants exactly how they can be used. In the case of the SNAP for HFO1234yf issued in March 2011, the EPA restricted its use to OEMs and service stations that comply with certain conditions, such as using containers that are over 20 pounds and have fittings that comply with SAE standards. The updated SNUR now gives the aftermarket retail market standing to expand that March 2011 SNAP to consumer use of HFO1234yf. The EPA is waiting for DuPont and Honeywell to come up with the proper fittings for containers below 20 pounds before approving consumer uses.
It is true that aftermarket sales of HFO1234yf, after an expanded SNAP approval is secured, will ramp up slowly. That said, General Motors is already using the refrigerant in the Cadillac XTS and in the European version of the Chevrolet Malibu. Over the next five years or so, GM will convert most of its models sold in North America to the new refrigerant, Curt Vincent, GM’s engineering manager for new refrigerants, has said.

Service stations are already set to perform aftermarket refilling. "There are at least 1,200 service centers in the U.S. that are currently equipped to service vehicles that have 1234yf, and we expect that to double over the next year as additional automakers, such as Chrysler, adopt the product," says DuPont spokeswoman Janet Smith. She adds the Obama administration is also considering the possible future delisting of 134a from the SNAP list as an option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan.

But the biggest stimulus in the U.S. for use of HFO1234yf by OEMs is the EPA/DOT car mileage standard for model year 2017-2025 light duty vehicles, which gives automakers "credits" against CO2 tailpipe emissions when they use green AC refrigerants.