Simanaitis Says

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THE EUROPEAN Union in Brussels, the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest court, and Germany’s Daimler-Benz are arguing about keeping cool. At the core of this are the EU’s stringent CO2 regulations and disagreements about the air-conditioning refrigerant HFO-1234y, shorthand name “Twelve-thirty-four.”


Image by Michaela Rehle, Reuters, from The New York Times, August 29, 2013.

Check out “Glossary of Cool” ( for background on this. An article in The New York Times, August 29, 2013, describes the latest European hassles ( An amplified summary follows.

Having lagged behind the U.S. and Japan for decades in regulating traditional automotive pollutants, the Europeans came on strong with anthropogenic climate change, CO2 and the automobile. Given today’s carbonaceous fuels, the EU’s automotive CO2 limits are equivalent to fuel-consumption regulations.

Beginning in 2012, each automaker had to post a new-car fleet average in the European market of no more than 130 gm CO2 /km. This target is equivalent to 43.5 mpg for gasoline vehicles; 49.0 for diesels (diesel fuel containing more carbon).

Fiat did best in 2012 with 118.2 gm CO2/km (an equivalent 47.8 mpg gasoline; 53.8 mpg diesel). Eight other automakers beat 130; the Euro market average was 132.3.

For 2020, the EU wants to tighten things to 90 gm CO2/km (gasoline: 63.5 mpg; diesel: 71.2 mpg). German automakers, already challenged with the 130 limit, seek weakening of the regulations.

The air-conditioning hassle is a byproduct of the overall CO2 limit. Beginning in 2013, the older a/c refrigerant R134a is banned in new-model vehicles (that is, carry-over designs can still use it). What’s more, any new refrigerant must have a “Global Warming Potential,” over a 100-year time horizon, of no greater than 150 times that of CO2. By contrast, R134a’s GWP is 1430. Twelve-thirty-four is only four times as potent as CO2; that is, its GWP is 4.


From left to right, Mercedes-Benz B-Class, CLA and SL.

Daimler chose to continue using R134a in several of its models, including its A-Class, B-Class, CLA and SL. The French environment ministry responded in July of this year by blocking registration of these cars. Daimler-Benz countered by taking the ban to a higher authority, the French counterpart of the U.S. Supreme Court.


Le Conseil d’Etat, Council of State, acts as France’s legal advisor to the executive branch as well as supreme administrator of justice.

Daimler-Benz argued that Twelve-thirty-four was flammable in crash testing and, when ignited, produced hydrogen fluoride, a dangerous gas. The French Conseil d’Etat agreed by temporarily lifting the ban.

Only a few thousand cars are specifically affected. But long-term implications aren’t clear.

Twelve-thirty-four is already the refrigerant of choice in several U.S. cars, among them the Cadillac ATS and XTS. Is its flammability a concern? The refrigerant’s supplier, Honeywell International, dismissed Daimler’s claim back in July 2013. Honeywell markets Twelve-thirty-four as its Solstice brand; Dupont has an Opteon equivalent.

Daimler-Benz and Volkswagen have been concentrating their efforts on developing air-conditioning systems that use CO2 as the refrigerant. Of course, environmentalists like its GWP, by definition 1. But a/c specialists recognize that it’s not a particularly good refrigerant, requiring larger, more costly and less efficient systems.

It ain’t over. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

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