* Daimler flouts EU directive on car A/C refrigerants
* If Daimler commits to CO2, should get more time - UBA
* Carmakers switching to CO2 need until end-2015 - UBA
* UBA aims to discuss refrigerant spat with EPA in April
By Christiaan Hetzner
FRANKFURT, Feb 14 A key German government body
said on Thursday it has proposed Brussels grant luxury automaker
Daimler until the end of 2015 to meet new European
Union laws mandating the use of climate-friendly air
conditioning refrigerants in cars.
In a bid to broker a dispute between Daimler on the one
side, and the EU and the rest of the auto industry on the other,
federal environment agency UBA called for the German carmaker to
be granted an extension if it agrees to introduce carbon dioxide
as a non-chemical refrigerant alternative.
Since the start of this year, Daimler has been in violation
of an EU directive to use a refrigerant produced by Honeywell
and DuPont known as HFO-1234yf, on the grounds it
could pose a significant fire safety risk.
"If you switch to CO2 then you reduce your global warming
potential by 75 percent over HFO-1234yf, so I think that
justifies permitting a longer transition time for those
carmakers that commit to the switch," UBA President Jochen
Flasbarth told Reuters in an interview.
Back in 2006, the EU passed a directive governing the
phase-out that started this year of the automotive air
conditioning refrigerant R134a, which has the potential to warm
the climate 1,400 times more than normal carbon dioxide.
In order to comply with the rule, carmakers agreed amongst
themselves to adopt the refrigerant jointly developed and
produced by Honeywell and DuPont, a move that could allow the
conglomerates to effectively monopolise the burgeoning market.
Opposition in Germany grown has grown in recent months to
the product after Daimler argued that, unlike the still
widely-used R134a, it can start a fire in the car and release
toxic hydrogen fluoride gas in the process.
Earlier this month, BMW joined Daimler and
Volkswagen's Audi in resigning from an industry
research group looking into the safety of HFO-1234yf, due to
concerns over the scientific thoroughness of the investigation.
"We have been warning about the dangers (of HF0-1234yf) for
years. Daimler's internal tests proved not only that our own
fears were justified but also that we may even have
underestimated the risks," Flasbarth said.
German carmakers initially favoured CO2 as a refrigerant
only to abandon development several years ago and fall in line
with the rest of the industry, since the new alternative does
not require a comprehensive and costly redesign of A/C systems.
Daimler received EU approval to sell three of its models in
the bloc, on the grounds they utilised HFO-1234yf.
However, if it doesn't back down from its decision not to
use the refrigerant, it could lose its ability to sell the cars
in the EU, including the Mercedes A-Class. It needs the compact
hatchback to close the sales gap with larger rivals BMW and
Volkswagen patriarch Ferdinand Piech told Auto Bild magazine
in November that a CO2-based air conditioning system was in fact
the better solution since it is inherently non-flammable.
He said VW would continue to use the existing R134a
refrigerant until it can make the technological jump on an
"It's just not possible to switch to a CO2-based system
within six months or even a year, though, so I would propose
giving carmakers until the end of 2015 to make the switch," the
UBA president said.
NO SUPPORT FOR ARGUMENT
Opponents of carbon dioxide as refrigerant, however, argue
it is not just the comprehensive and costly redesign of A/C
systems that make it troublesome.
They cite safety concerns resulting from a possible leak.
Enough CO2 escaping into the passenger cabin could cause
drowsiness among occupants, increasing the risk of an accident.
Additionally, they say proponents of CO2 omit the indirect
carbon emissions in their calculations, especially in warmer
climates closer to the equator where the A/C runs more often.
More gasoline or diesel fuel is consumed by the engine to
power a CO2-based A/C system, since it requires more energy to
maintain sufficient internal pressure to keep carbon dioxide
contained and in a liquid state.
"The UBA has a VW Touran in our fleet equipped with a CO2
air-conditioner, for which we carefully measure the fuel
consumption, and we cannot find evidence to support that
argument," Flasbarth countered.
The UBA president said he planned to discuss the differences
in opinion over HFO-1234yf with his counterparts at the
Environmental Protection Agency in the United States in April.
Carmakers in the United States are granted credits towards
lowering their average CO2 emissions by the EPA should they use
HFO-1234yf instead of R134a.