FRANKFURT, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Honeywell refuted claims that its new carbon-neutral air conditioning refrigerant was unsafe, citing findings by an automotive industry research group that it said backed up the product.
The comments by the U.S. conglomerate came after German carmaker BMW left an industry research programme investigating the safety of the refrigerant, saying it disagreed with the test methods and following Daimler and Audi which also quit the programme.
Honeywell said on Tuesday that the latest research backed its view that the new coolant was fit to equip cars, its only commercial use given the refrigerant’s high price.
It cited comments made on Monday by the international Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), which is carrying out the research, that the “high level of confidence (in refrigerant HFO-1234yf) continues to grow” since combustion requires “extremely idealized conditions”.
Terrence Hahn, vice president and general manager for Honeywell Fluorine Products, said on Tuesday: “The SAE’s latest evaluation, combined with years of other extensive testing, leaves no doubt that HFO-1234yf is safe for automotive applications.”
SAE aims to complete its research and publish a final report in the second quarter of this year.
Daimler, whose Mercedes-Benz marque counts safety as one of its core brand values, banned the use of HFO-1234yf in its cars on fears it would prove to be flammable and create a toxic gas called hydrogen fluoride when burning.
BMW and Audi have not stated that the refrigerant itself poses a danger.
Daimler believes SAE conclusions from 2009 mistakenly failed to classify HFO-1234yf as a potential source of a primary fire. Daimler also argues that it is inherently more dangerous than the non-flammable R134a being phased out.
SAE said on Monday it “notes with disappointment” the decision by Daimler, BMW and Audi to resign from the industry research group, in which 10 other carmakers still participate.
The new refrigerant is being phased in by the European Commission because any leakages in a car’s air conditioning system are far less prone to add to climate-warming gases in the atmosphere than the R134a currently used.
Sources told Reuters on Monday that the European Commission last week informed German authorities it saw “no grounds” to give German carmakers more time to comply with the EU-wide phase-in that started Jan. 1, despite safety concerns.
Honeywell and its production partner DuPont control the supply of the new refrigerant, which has a carbon footprint almost as low as CO2, well below that of R134a, which will be banned in the EU entirely come 2017.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in the development and commercialisation of refrigerant HFO-1234yf. Honeywell and DuPont stand to profit from what eventually is expected to be a billion dollar market.