Environment and Climate

Air-conditioning systems and refrigerants

Even at the start of the 1990s, the automobile industry was looking for climate-friendlier alternatives to the established coolant, and replaced the ozone-damaging coolant R12 with the significantly environmentally friendlier R134a.

Development air-conditioning systems and refrigerants

Back in the 1980s, the automotive industry looked at alternatives to the ozone layer depleting refrigerant R12 and replaced it with the significantly more environmentally friendly R134a. The German automotive industry introduced it long before its competitors. As result of a shift in emphasis of environmental policy, the focus switched to the greenhouse effect (influence of the gas on the greenhouse effect after escaping into the atmosphere). The EU therefore enacted a directive in 2006 introducing a limit on the greenhouse gas effect. This is defined in terms of the GWP (Global Warming Potential). The GWP is an index stated relative to its effect on CO2 as a greenhouse gas over a one hundred year time frame. The EU directive requires the air-conditioning system refrigerant in new vehicle models, and with effect from January 1, 2017 in all new vehicles, to have a GWP of less than 150. While the R134a in use today is significantly more environmentally friendly than the previous refrigerant, its GWP nevertheless exceeds the limit. The refrigerant R1234yf has been introduced as an alternative in the European market in a number of vehicle models. Tests on behalf of the German Motor Transport Authority show that these vehicles are safe as construed by the Product Safety Act. A further test indicated, however, that a fire cannot be ruled out in every situation in every vehicle model.

German vehicle manufacturers thereupon decided to resume and complete development of the alternative CO2 – yet another possibility of introducing safe refrigerants into the vehicle fleet. Since then, more than 16 CO2 system components have been standardized and the first vehicles are in test operation.

Climate effect and damage caused to the ozone layer by coolants

Coolants Climate potential (GWP) Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP)
R12 10890 Yes
R134a 1430 No
R1234yf 4 No
R744 (CO₂) 1 No
Source: VDA
Dr. Stefan Wöhrl
Dr. Stefan Wöhrl Head of Department Environment policy and technical environment protection

Tel: +49 30 897842-300 Fax: +49 30 897842-600
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