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Daimler, Audi, BMW, Porsche and VW to develop CO2 MAC systems - Third time lucky?

07 March 2013

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After a clear commitment in 2007 to use CO2 as the refrigerant in mobile air conditioning (MAC), reconfirmed in 2008, and followed by a subsequent preference for the chemical refrigerant 1234yf, Daimler, backed by four leading carmakers has taken yet another U-turn, announcing the further development of CO2 technology as a “sustainable and safe solution”. The group has the support of German automotive association VDA.
As reported by the German Press Agency dpa and reflected in leading German media sources such as Handelsblatt, Spiegel, Stern, ntv and FOCUS, five German carmakers have announced that they will drive the development of CO2 (R744) technology in MAC systems. However, out of the manufacturers’ group, only Daimler R&D development chief Thomas Weber is quoted as saying “We are delighted that we were able to agree on this sustainable and safe solution together with Audi, BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen, with the involvement of the VDA.”
 
Daimler regards the technical challenges for developing MAC systems for high-pressure CO2 technology to be “manageable”. In Geneva Weber told journalists that for safety reasons 1234yf, so far favoured by the automotive industry, would not be considered an alternative and “for this reason we have clearly tasked our engineers to develop a CO2 MAC system.”

The announcement is the latest twist in a story that has attracted widespread public attention in Germany and beyond, following Daimler’s findings in September 2012 that the chemical refrigerant R1234yf is unsafe for use in its cars. Discussions since Daimler’s announcement have centred around questions regarding the flammability and toxicity of 1234yf, its potential harm to passengers and rescue personnel, and its potential impact on ecosystems and the atmosphere. German Federal Environmental Agency UBA, as well as leading researchers from Germany and Switzerland, and automotive clubs like ADAC, have all disputed the viability of 1234yf and/or openly backed CO2 refrigerant as the only long term viable and safe alternative in MAC systems.
 
Third time lucky?

Daimler’s announcement, made public during the Geneva Motor Show on Wednesday, is the 3rd confirmation concerning the development of CO2 MAC systems made in the last 6 years. The first VDA statement in favour of R744 was released in September 2007, reconfirmed in October 2008. In 2009, German carmakers turned away from CO2 to choose a chemical refrigerant that had only been tested to a lesser extent. Then, in September 2012, it was confirmed by real-life tests performed by Daimler that the synthetic substance 1234yf is flammable under various accident scenarios and component configurations in different car models. While other carmakers back 1234yf, Daimler announced that it would not use the flammable gas due to the release of toxic HF, considered a serious risk for the health of passengers and any persons near a burning car. Instead, CO2 has resurfaced as a safe refrigerant, although it remains a technologically challenging solution that requires further development time.
 
Now that four other leading German manufacturers are backing Daimler’s decision, closing ranks, this raises the question of how reliable yesterday’s announcement really is. MAC suppliers ready to provide components and complete R744 systems back in 2008/2009 had stalled most developments on these systems after the VDA members shifted away from CO2 towards 1234yf. Over the years, R744.com has reported extensively about the subject. 
One media source reporting from Geneva now states that Daimler will award a contract to one MAC system supplier for R744 technology. 
 
In the coming days R744.com will publish a series of follow-up articles on this issue. 

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Comments

Klaas Visser

KAV Consulting Pty Ltd
My dear departed, and still sadly missed, friend Gustav Lorentzen (GL), who played a significant role in developing the concept of using CO2 refrigeration for both the cooling and heating of cars and the subsequent patent application, which was granted nearly 20 years ago, would be delighted with this news.

I sincerely hope that this is the final and decisive breakthrough in this saga. It will vindicate the wisdom and foresight of GL and his many dedicated colleagues at SHECCO more than 20 years ago. It also vindicates the vision and dedication of the early pioneers in the race to develop CO2 for the car industry - OBRIST Engineering out of Austria - and other transport industries like Busses and Rail, where BOCK has been a pioneer.

It is probably also worthy of note that this is the second major blow dealt to the powerful and well resourced HFC/HFO lobby, following the public announcement by CocaCola and Unilever - members of REFRIGERNTS NATURALLY - two years ago that they will not accept HFOs in any of their systems.

It would be nice if all the other car makers in the world will follow suit, but that appears to be unlikely. Hopefully the consumers will decide in favour of the environment and express a preference for cars with CO2 cooling and heating.

I believe that should theEU decide to outlaw HFO 1234yf on the grounds of safety, as fairly conclusively proved by the relevant responsible German Government Department - and now confirmed by Daimler - , the other countries would cry Foul! and call such a regulation a non-tariff barrier! But any corporation wishing to sell its cars in the EU would soon come to heal, I am certain. Why doesn't the EU recognize it made a mistake when deciding that refrigerants with a GWP of 150 or less would be acceptable for MAC? That opened the door to the chemical wizards. Why not simply outlaw the chemicals like Denmark did partially with HFCs in 1996 effective 10 years later? A unique example of courage and foresight. If a small country like Denmark can do it, why can't the big powerful countries? Denmark is now one of the leading countries in the in the development and use of naturalrefigerant tecnologies such as Ammonia, CO2 and, more recently, hydrocarbons.

Is the chemical refigerant lobby so strong and powerful, that souvereign governments shake in their shoes with fear like they do when ratings agencies downrate a country's credit rating? Whose interests do they serve but their own? Involuntary regurgitation of one's lunch comes to mind!

Congratulations to BMW, Daimler and the Volkswagen Group, together with the VDA, for finally committing to CO2 for comfort cooling and heating in their vehicles after the initial trials and tribulations and several false starts.
I am hopeful that it will be third time lucky!

With best wishes and kind regards

Yours sincerely

Klaas Visser.
added 2013-03-09 06:39:43

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