Auto makers are slowly moving toward a new refrigerant for automotive air conditioning systems. The new refrigerant is R1234yf (HFO-1234yf), and it will be phased in slowly over time starting with some 2014 model year vehicles. The new refrigerant is patented and manufactured in a joint venture between Honeywell and DuPont. Other manufacturers have also been licensed to produce the refrigerant. Honeywell markets the new refrigerant under the trademark Solstice YF. DuPont and European manufacturer Chemours is selling R1234yf under the trademark Opteon YF.
R1234yf has cooling properties that are similar to R134a, which has been used as an automotive refrigerant since it was introduced back in 1994 to 1995 to replace R12. R134a contains no CFCs, which are harmful to the Earth's protective ozone layer, but it does retain heat well and has a relatively high Global Warming Potential (GWP) rating of 1300.
Automotive refrigerants that leak out of A/C systems contribute very little to the overall global warming problem, only about 0.14% according to scientific estimates. Even so, when you multiply the millions of vehicles that are AC-equipped times even a small amount of refrigerant leakage over time, the numbers can add up. Some would argue that switching to a new refrigerant is unnecessary and will hardly make a dent in climate change. Others argue that it is all a conspiracy by DuPont and Honeywell to monopolize the world automotive refrigerant market by getting regulators to require a new low global warming potential refrigerant. R1234yf has a GWP rating of 4, which is over 350X less than R134a!
Politics and conspiracy theories aside, regulations have already been passed in Europe that will require the new refrigerant. The Europeans were considering CO2 (R744) because it has the lowest GWP rating of all: One! But A/C systems that operate using CO2 require extremely high pressures (1,800 to 2,200 PSI versus 300 to 400 PSI for R134a and R1234yf) and are much more expensive to manufacture.
The U.S. EPA has issued regulations that call for R134a to be phased out of domestic new car production by 2021. R134a will still be allowed for certain export vehicles, but only until 2025. After that, all new vehicles will have to use R134yf refrigerant. R-134a production will continue for servicing older vehicles.
The auto makers had agreed on moving ahead with R1234yf until Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) ran some tests that revealed R1234yf could ignite under certain special conditions. Based on the test findings, Mercedes and Volkswagen said no to the new refrigerant, but later reversed their stand. Toyota also balked at using the new refrigerant but eventually joined the party.
R1234yf is slightly flammable, but according to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the new refrigerant is safe for automotive passenger car use. The risk of fire is extremely remote in case of an accident or refrigerant leak into the passenger compartment.
To read the official SAE press release, Click Here.
R1234yf has cooling performance that is similar to R134a but not quite as good. It is about 5 percent less efficient than R134a. It is not a simple drop-in substitute for R-134a because it requires a slightly larger or more efficient condenser and a more robust leak-resistant evaporator (for safety). R1234yf also requires a new type of compressor PAG oil, as well as new J2843 certified recovery and recycling equipment designed especially for the new refrigerant.
For more information, see HFO-1234yf Technical Information - Honeywell
R1234yf is significantly more expensive than R134a because of limited supplies and the fact that Honeywell has a worldwide monopoly on their refrigerant. The current price as of July 2016 is around $660 to $675 for a 10 lb. container, which is $66 to $67 per pound! Ouch! This compares to a current retail price of around $5 for a small can of R134a. The price of R1234yf should slowly come down as production ramps up to meet a growing demand. Honeywell recently licensed a company in China (Juhua Corp.) to start making the refrigerant for the Asian market.
Other hydrocarbon and hydrocarbon-blend refrigerants (such as propane, butane and others) have also been considered as alternative refrigerants, but would require some type of secondary loop cooling configuration and special safety features to keep the potentially explosive vapors away from the passenger compartment. Many states ban the use of flammable refrigerants in motor vehicles (except for use in refrigerated truck trailer cooling units).
There are no plans to eliminate the production of R134a because it will still be needed to service older vehicles with R134a A/CV systems. Retrofitting R134a systems to R1234yf seems unlikely because of the difference in cost and cooling performance.
R-134a should only be used in R134a systems, and should NOT be used to top off a R1234yf system. Likewise, R-1234yf should NOT be used in an older R134a or R12 A/C system due to material compatibility and lubrication issues.
R1234yf A/C systems have their own unique service fittings (which are different from R12 and R134 fittings) to discourage accidental cross-contamination.
Because R1234yf is slightly flammable, an evaporator that is leaking MUST be replaced with a new unit. The installation of a used evaporator from a salvage vehicle is NOT allowed because there is a chance it might also leak, exposing the vehicle's occupants to potentially flammable vapor mixture.
Professional service equipment for R1234yf includes a leak check feature built into the recovery and recharging machine. The equipment also includes a refrigerant identifier to make sure the vehicle's A/C system contains R1234yf and not some other refrigerant.
If your a/C system is leaking, the leak MUST be fixed before the shop will recharge your A/C system with refrigerant.
The first U.S. vehicle to use R1234yf refrigerant was the 2013 Cadillac XTS. Cadillac also tried R1234yf in the Cadillac ATS, but stopped only one month into production because of A/C compressor noise and vibration issues. Early production ATS models were recalled and retrofitted back to R134a (which apparently works fine in an A/C system designed for R1234yf).
For model year 2014, R1234yf is used in the Jeep Cherokee, Chrysler 300, Dodge Ram 1500, and Dodge Charger, Challenger and Dart. It will also be used in the 2015 Chrysler 200.
Most auto makers are expected to have numerous R-1234yf applications by model year 2017 and beyond. Auto makers receive fuel economy credits for vehicles that are converted to R-1234yf, which helps them achieve the new higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements.
Here is a list of late model vehicles sold in North America in 2014 and 2015 that have R1234yf refrigerant in their air conditioning systems:
BMW i3 Electric
Cadillac XTS (2013 and 2014)
Chevrolet Spark EV (2014)
Chrysler 300 (2014)
Dodge Challenger (2014)
Honda Fit EV (2013 and 2014)
Hyundai Santa Fe & i30
Jeep Cherokee (2014)
Kia Sorento, Optima & Cadenza
Range Rover and Range Rover Sport (2014)
Subaru BRZ, Forrester & Impreza
The following vehicle makes & models are equipped with R1234YF refrigerant air condition systems for the 2017 model year:
Buick LaCrosse Premium AWD
Chevrolet Bolt EV
Chevrolet Camaro RS
Chevrolet Colorado LT Diesel
Chevrolet Silverado HD 2500 (10,000 GVWR uses R-134a)
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71, LTZ (7,200 GVWR uses R-1234yf)
Chevrolet Suburban 4WD
Chevrolet Tahoe LT
Ford Fusion Energi
GMC Canyon SLT
GMC Sierra 1500 4WD SLT, Z71
GMC Yukon XL, Denali
Jaguar (all models)
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Kia Cadenza Premium
Kia Optima LX, FE
Kia Sportage SX AWD
Land Rover (all models)
Source: MACS (Mobile Air Conditioning Society)