RefrigerantsThere is an ongoing change in the refrigerant used in cooling systems, starting in the automotive industry and moving into the off-road mobile machinery markets. Manufacturers are changing from R 134A refrigerant to R1234yf refrigerant in automobiles and a similar transition is occurring in mobile, off-road products. Chris Doleshel, Test Lab Manager at Red Dot, offered some insights regarding the change. The auto industry has mostly undergone this change, and it also appears that the HFO 1234yf is very close to HHC 134a in performance, but significantly better for the environment. 

All 2017 and newer European automotive models are required to use a refrigerant with a global warming potential of less than 150 as of January 1, 2017. R-1234yf is the refrigerant adopted for this use. The auto industry has transitioned some U.S. models to R-1234yf, although it’s not required by current U.S. law. The reason the auto industry is transitioning its U.S. models is to achieve commonality with European models, and to gain Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) “credits” from the EPA. R-1234yf will not perform exactly the same as R-134a in the same system; however, with a system redesign its performance can be close to R-134a’s.

RedDot is currently conducting testing to determine the performance impact and system redesigns necessary to maintain performance levels for systems used in Europe. Currently R-1234yf is not approved for use in the U.S. for heavy duty (class 6, 7, and 8 trucks) or off-highway use, or for retrofits in mobile applications. There is also currently no timeline for approval in these applications, as the risks and mitigation strategies have not been studied.

Dealers will notice some changes – mainly in cost. R-1234yf also requires new service equipment and slightly different service procedures. There is no requirement for technician retraining, but it is recommended. The oil will also change and service times will likely increase due to the leak check and charging procedure that the new service equipment performs.

Manufacturers should also consider designing mitigation strategies into their products to minimize the risk associated with R-1234yf’s flammability. There really shouldn’t be anything that the end user has to worry about. There is potentially a risk for the service technician, which is why retraining to SAE J2845 is recommended, and new service equipment — which is certified to handle flammable refrigerants — is required.

We at AEM will continue to monitor this issue and share with you any changes that will impact our industry.