EU scientists have found that the new car coolant at the centre of a dispute that has pitched regulators against Germany and its luxury carmaker Daimler does not pose any serious safety risks, the European Commission said on Friday.
The European Commission has launched legal proceedings against Germany over Daimler's refusal to stop using an old-style coolant that has global warming potential more than 1,000 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.
The suggested substitute, which has roughly the same impact as carbon dioxide, is the R1234yf coolant developed by US conglomerate Honeywell, in partnership with Dupont.
Daimler says that the substitute can emit a toxic gas when it burns, but its refusal to use the product has placed it in breach of an EU law that requires new cars to use coolants with a global warming potential no more than 150 times that of carbon dioxide.
In what it described as "a confidence-building measure", the Commission asked the Joint Research Council (JRC), set up to provide impartial scientific advice for policymakers, to carry out a new assessment of R1234yf.
"There is no evidence of a serious risk in the use of this refrigerant in mobile air-conditioning systems under normal and foreseeable conditions of use," the JRC concluded in its report published on Friday (7 March).
Daimler issued a statement saying that the research was "too restrictive". The carmaker said that its preferred option is to develop air-conditioning systems that use carbon dioxide as a refrigerant. Development of such a system, however, could take years.
Honeywell and Dupont both welcomed the JRC's findings. Honeywell said there are now more than 500,000 cars using R1234yf. The number is expected to reach more than two million by the end of this year.
“The JRC’s independent and unimpeachable report leaves no doubt that HFO-1234yf is safe for automotive applications,” said Ken Gayer, vice president and general manager for Honeywell Fluorine Products, saying the assessment marked "the final word" on the safety of the product.
“We continue to see strong adoption by global automakers of this new refrigerant as they work to meet new environmental regulation, especially in Europe, and are investing in production capacity to ensure adequate supply,” Gayer said in a statement.
Daimler is facing infringement proceedings from Brussels because it announced an intention to defy EU legislation and continue using a super greenhouse gas in its car air conditioning systems.
Since 1 January 2014, the EU’s 2006 Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) directive has obliged all European car companies to limit the global warming potential (gwp) of their air conditioning refrigerants to substances less than 150 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
A replacement refrigerant called HFO-1234yf had been endorsed by all European car companies - including the German Automotive Association (VDA), of which Daimler is a member.
But in a shock turnaround last September, Daimler, which makes Mercedes-Benz cars, said that a crash simulation they had performed showed that under certain conditions, HFO-1234yf could be highly flammable.