UPDATE 1-Car makers fight EU ban on climate change chemicals

* Car industry group seeks 2-3 year delay to refrigerant ban

* Suppliers say green alternatives proven and available

* Scientists say threat from refrigerants worse than thought

(Adds industry, political reaction)

By Pete Harrison

BRUSSELS, June 23 (Reuters) - Car makers are lobbying the European Union to delay an agreed 2011 ban on climate-damaging chemicals in car air conditioners, a letter from auto industry group ACEA shows.

The move has aroused strong opposition from environmentalists and suppliers of greener engineering systems.

The European Union ruled in 2006 that from 2011 it would ban the use of fluorinated chemicals, such as the industry standard known as R134a, which have a powerful climate-warming effect when released into the atmosphere.

The EU closed a legal loophole in April after learning that car makers were planning to use it to avoid the ban until 2017.

But ACEA said they still needed more time.

“Car manufacturers need sufficient lead-time of at least two-three years past January 1, 2011 to adjust to the changed situation,” ACEA said in a letter to the European Commission seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

“ACEA requests that the Commission work with the member states to find a pragmatic solution,” it added.

ACEA’s push follows success by auto manufacturers last year in delaying an EU plan to cut carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas from burning fossil fuels.

It said automakers would need to invest an extra 40-200 euros ($55 to $280) per vehicle to meet the refrigerant standards, which could not be passed on to consumers in the current tough economic climate.


British politician Chris Davies said the industry had already had since 2006 to get ready and could make the change “at the flick of a switch”.

“This is a crucial test for the Commission ahead of global climate talks in Copenhagen in December,” he told Reuters. “The Commission must not concede on this, or they will open the floodgates to a whole host of special pleading by industry.”

Banning harmful refrigerants is a cheap and easy way to combat climate change, he added.

The emerging market for greener refrigerants pits industry giant Honeywell International HON.N with its HFO-1234yf coolant against rival carbon dioxide-based cooling systems such as that of Austria's Obrist Engineering, Germany's Ixetic and U.S.-based Visteon VSTN.PK.

“The technology is developed and durability proven, but the car makers haven’t placed the orders,” a director at one major supplier of green refrigerants said on condition of anonymity for fear of angering car manufacturers. “The industry could provide millions of units.”

Willi Parsch of Ixetic said General Motors GM.N and two German manufacturers had earlier placed orders for the group's technology for delivery between 2008 and 2011, but all three car makers had later cancelled.

A scientific report on Tuesday showed greenhouse gases from refrigerants and air-conditioning were more harmful to the climate than previously thought.

In the worst case, use of hydrofluorocarbons could surge to cause global warming in 2050 equivalent to the impact of between 28 and 45 percent of emissions of carbon dioxide, Dutch and American scientists said in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Reporting by Pete Harrison, editing by Anthony Barker)