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R1234yf retrofits coming after all?

Refrigerant manufacturer Honeywell, which co-developed R1234yf with Chemours, has filed an application with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeking approval for the use of YF as a retrofit refrigerant in R134a systems.

This step, previously considered unlikely due to YF’s A2L mild flammability rating, was motivated by growing concern about the availability and cost of R134a as the global HFC phasedown progresses.

Honeywell vice president and general manager of automotive refrigerants Rick Winick said that allowing cars originally charged with R134a to be serviced using R1234yf “would help speed up the phase-out of high-GWP hydrofluorocarbons”.

“The R134a to R1234yf retrofit repair process is simple, economical, reliable, and safe,” he said.

“There would be a strong benefit for the environment, as well as for the auto repair industry should the US EPA decide to approve our SNAP application for this.”

The application was filed under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program, which regulates the use of alternative refrigerants.

Even if approved, the EPA may impose specific conditions associated with the use of the refrigerant, such as requiring dedicated equipment, fittings, and labels. In this regard, R1234yf holds an advantage over another retrofit option, R456A, as existing R1234yf service equipment can be used for recharging, while the current R134a machines can handle recovery of the HFC refrigerant before the retrofit process.

Under the US HFC phasedown, from next year the amount of HFCs allowed to be manufactured in or imported to the US will drop to 60 per cent of what it was in 2021.

This reduction has already caused a significant increase in the price of R134a, from less than US$6 per kilogram to more than US$30/kg. Next year’s reduction will likely lead to even higher prices and limited availability, depending on how allocation holders decide to use their allotted amounts and which refrigerants they choose to produce or import.

It remains uncertain how far-reaching the YF application will be, if successful, including whether it covers DIY retrofitting or other applications beyond passenger cars and light trucks.

However, it is likely that the initial focus will be on these vehicles, as they have been successfully using R1234yf for more than a decade – albeit with air-conditioning systems that are subject to particular SAE standards and requirements owing to YF’s flammability rating – and those using YF represent a growing portion of the road transport industry.

The approval process for EPA SNAP applications is known to be lengthy, taking approximately 1-2 years before any decision is made.

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