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A look at the new standard in mobile air-conditioning chemistry

By Christina Spalding, Business Development Manager, Thermal & Specialized Solutions, The Chemours Company

After the first iPhone was introduced, Apple released 33 additional versions. That’s 34 iPhones in only 15 years. Considering how quickly many companies introduce the next great thing to satisfy society’s thirst for whatever is bigger and better, it’s pretty remarkable that mobile air-conditioning refrigerants have undergone just three major changes. Since Packard offered the first automobiles with factory air-conditioning in 1939, mobile cooling has been driven by R-12 and R-134a (both refrigerants in the Freon™ product family), followed by what is quickly becoming today’s standard, R-1234yf.

As part of The Chemours Company, I can confidently say that the chemistry behind these refrigerants was developed to stand the test of time. If you think about how many iterations of vehicles there have been in the past 80 years, the untold variations in size, style, power, materials, price, options, and even fuel, the fact that just three refrigerants kept pace is impressive. If history repeats itself, which it should considering the chemistry of R-1234yf, odds are it will be quite some timebefore a new mobile air-conditioning refrigerant is necessary. This is due to the fact that a R-1234yf refrigerant delivers what’s needed in terms of environmental responsibility, safety, performance, and the flexibility to work in systems ranging from gas-powered internal-combustion vehicles to hybrids and EVs.

This should be reassuring as the industry transitions to R-1234yf in compliance with R-134a phasedown regulations happening around the world. With its zero ozone depletion potential (ODP) and <1 global warming potential (GWP), R-1234yf is quickly becoming the standard in the automotive market. In addition, R-1234yf’s atmospheric lifetime averages a mere 11 days. Moreover, it offers a close match to R-134a in terms of energy efficiency, capacity, and thermodynamic properties, as well as low toxicity.

The overriding influence for the evolutions of mobile air-conditioning refrigerants is the health of the planet. Not only did the development of R-134a meet the demand for a refrigerant with less ODP than R-12, its innovation also proved effective in helping to eliminate ozone-depleting substances. And the innovation of R-1234yf came from environmental demands for a refrigerant offering a lower GWP. But what makes R-1234yf such an attractive long-term solution is that the environmental benefits weren’t just a step in the right direction, they were significant. The ODP and GWP values for the new-generation refrigerant are incredibly low and nearly impossible to improve upon.

Plenty of R-134a-charged vehicles remain on the road, and the need to service them will continue for quite some time. However, with 80 million vehicles currently on the road in the U.S. charged with R-1234yf, and many of the big players now manufacturing the greater majority of their vehicles with R-1234yf systems, the transition is well underway. Now is the time to start implementing the best R-1234yf solution for you.

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