Are You Cool with R1234yf?

Did you know the first car to feature air conditioning was produced in 1940?  Today nearly all automobiles have air conditioning, which means it’s important to consider how your yard handles refrigerants.  In the mid-1990’s, automotive manufacturers switched to the refrigerant R134a due to concerns of ozone layer depletion.  Today, they are making the switch from R134a to R1234yf due to concerns about global climate change.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has issued regulations for R134a to be phased out of most new vehicle production by 2021 and all vehicle production by 2025.  After that, all new vehicles will use R1234yf refrigerant although R134a will still be available to service older vehicles.

R134a and R1234yf are similar in performance, but R1234yf is more environmentally friendly.  R1234yf is also classified as mildly flammable, which means that it must be handled properly.  According to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), R1234yf is safe for automotive use.  The risk of fire is highly unlikely in case of an accident or refrigerant leak.  Along with the flammability risk comes several new procedures, new certification and new equipment for properly handling of R1234yf.

One difference between R134a and R1234yf systems is the different charging ports on the respective hoses.  SAE standards require that the charge port fittings be unique for each refrigerant to prevent the accidental mixing of different refrigerants.  Hoses must also be marked by the manufacturer to indicate which refrigerant to use, although some hoses could meet validation standards for more than one refrigerant.  Retrofitting of R134a systems to use the new refrigerant is not allowed.  Also, it would not be practical because the cost of R1234yf is significantly more than R134a.  It is possible that some shops will put R134a into R1234yf vehicles.  In fact, the higher cost or R1234yf (nearly 10 times the cost of R134a) makes it likely there will be a strong resale market for recycled R1234yf.

Several regulations apply to all types of refrigerants used in automobiles.  Section 608 of the Clean Air Act prohibits the intentional release (venting) of any refrigerant when maintaining, servicing, repairing, or disposing of air conditioning or refrigeration equipment, including those from motor vehicles.  Likewise, recovered refrigerant must be either recycled or reclaimed before it can be reused, even if it is being returned to the same automobile.  Anyone who maintains, services, or repairs Motor Vehicle Air Conditioning (MVAC) systems must be certified as Section 609 MVAC technicians.  Perhaps most importantly, the final person in the disposal chain (such as a scrap metal recycler or landfill owner) is responsible for ensuring that refrigerant is recovered from equipment before its final disposal.  Individuals removing refrigerant from small appliances or motor vehicle air conditioners, when preparing them for disposal, are not required to be certified technicians. However, the equipment used to recover refrigerant from appliances prior to their final disposal must meet the same performance standards as refrigerant recovery equipment used for servicing.

Certified equipment must be used to remove refrigerant from a vehicle.  New equipment may be required to service R1234yf systems to ensure the fittings and hoses are appropriate for R1234yf.  All recovery machines must meet SAE standards J2843 and J2927 or J2912, these standards specifically address refrigerant equipment.  Since some machines do not recover contaminated refrigerant, you may need a recovery-only machine that is specifically designed to SAE standard J2851, which applies to recovery-only machines.  Recovered refrigerant must be either recycled or reclaimed before it can be recharged into a MVAC system.  Recycling removes impurities and oil, while reclamation returns the refrigerant to pure specifications.

What’s the bottom line?  Handle refrigerants carefully.  Be aware that R1234yf is being used in newer models of cars and you may have already seen it or may be seeing it arrive in your yard soon.  Consider investing in appropriate equipment for removal and/or reclamation, keeping an eye on the resale market.  And enjoy your air conditioning when the summer heat hits.

Junkyard?  I think not.

Sara HamidovicComment