EU to enforce green coolant law for cars
* Daimler seeks six-month grace period
* Enforcement deadline was postponed from 2011 to 2013
* Previous industry standard 1,000 times more potent than CO2
By Francesco Guarascio and Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The European Commission will seek to prosecute nations that flout a new EU law requiring use of an environmentally friendly coolant in vehicle air-conditioning, which Daimler AG says is dangerous.
From the start of January, EU law has demanded the phase-in of a refrigerant with a relatively low level of greenhouse gases, instead of a previous industry standard that has planet-warming power more than one thousand times that of carbon dioxide.
EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani said in response to a parliamentary question that he would start infringement procedures against member states that broke the new rules, Chris Davies, the British Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament who lodged the question, said in a statement.
The Commission, meanwhile, is analysing a request by the German authorities to find a special solution for Daimler, which wants a six-month grace period.
"The Germans have proposed a number of measures to meet the new requirements of the directive, including penalties for car makers that do not abide by the directive on air conditioning for cars," a Commission official told Reuters.
The official, who asked not to be named, said the offer of financial compensation was "a positive step", but added: "The Commission remains firmly opposed to a new moratorium."
The law has already been delayed. It had been scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2011, but car manufacturers were given until the end of 2012 to make sure they had a supply of the right coolant for the new generation of cars after Jan. 1, 2013.
A Daimler test last year involving a simulated leak resulted in the coolant bursting into flames, triggering bitter exchanges between the German luxury automaker and Honeywell International Inc., which developed the new coolant in partnership with Dupont and says it is safe.
The new coolant has a greenhouse gas potency only four times greater than CO2 and therefore complies with the EU law requiring a greenhouse gas potential of no more than 150 times that of CO2.
Terrence Hahn, vice-president and general manager for Honeywell Fluorine Products, said that it would be a bad precedent if the Commission did not stand by its law after a long period of international testing to come up with viable and safe alternative. Daimler was the only car manufacturer to question it, he said.
"It would create a very difficult and awkward precedent across the entire EU region," Hahn told Reuters. "This is very foundational from a precedent-setting standpoint."
Honeywell has said that its new coolant is flammable, but makes the point that brake fluid, steering fluid and fuel are all capable of catching fire.
It is supplying its product across the globe and Hahn said that the take-up rate was high in the United States, where the regulatory environment allows manufacturers to earn credits to cover tail-pipe fumes if they use coolants with lower emissions.
Hahn said that carbon dioxide, which can be a coolant rather than a planet-warmer when used in refrigeration, had been considered as a solution, but it did not work well in hot countries.
It also involved piping and other equipment that would make vehicles heavier, thereby increasing fuel burn and offsetting any cut in emissions via cleaner air-conditioning, he said.
Daimler confirmed that it has asked for a six-month grace period to come up with an alternative solution.
"So far we haven't received a reply," a spokesman said.
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