LANSDALE, PA — The reduced availability and increased cost of HFC-134a refrigerant is causing increasing concern to the service and repair industry. To address this concern, the Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide has issued a reminder to all service technicians who perform mobile A/C system service and repair regarding acceptable refrigerant use.
According to MACS, even though there are a number of other refrigerants on the market listed by the U.S. EPA as environmentally acceptable, they are for use only in CFC-12 automotive A/C systems. The EPA listing does not identify any replacement refrigerant for HFC-134a systems, and the U.S. EPA has not evaluated alternative refrigerants for system performance and durability.
Vehicle manufacturers have approved HFC-134a for use in vehicles starting in 1992. CFC-12 is approved in vehicles manufactured prior to the change over to HFC-134a, and HFC-134a is the only refrigerant approved for use by vehicle manufacturers as a retrofit refrigerant for CFC-12 vehicles. Current HFC-134a mobile A/C systems are designed and tested only for use of HFC-134a refrigerant and the specific lubricant (PAG).
At the 2005 MACS convention Jeanne Briskin, deputy director of EPA’s Stratospheric Protection Division and the acting chief of the Alternatives and Emissions Reductions Branch, presented “Everything You Wanted to Know About The Clean Air Act, But Were Afraid to Ask.” In the presentation several issues were covered including the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) and replacement refrigerants. SNAP evaluates refrigerants for environmental impact and safety, but does not evaluate refrigerants for cooling performance, material compatibility or system reliability.
SNAP regulates replacement of ozone depleting (CFC-12) refrigerants only. SNAP lists only HFC-134a and HCFC and other non-flammable refrigerant blends and SNAP-listed blend refrigerants containing HCFCs require certification to purchase. SNAP does not list replacements for HFC-134a refrigerant systems.
In its statement, MACS said it is important for service technicians to understand the U.S. EPA rules (under the U.S. Clean Air Act) do not cover requirements for HFC-134a mobile A/C systems, except for the venting prohibition. There are no federal requirements mandating unique service fittings, or that an HFC-134a system be labeled that another refrigerant has been installed.
Current market conditions require the service industry to be vigilant when servicing mobile A/C systems, following the vehicle manufacturer’s service requirements. If non-OEM approved refrigerants are installed in HFC-134a systems, there are a number of potential concerns, including system cooling performance, reliability and material compatibility. Chemical damage from blend refrigerants (chlorine) to system lubricant, seals and hoses and contamination with lubricants required for blend refrigerants are also a concern.
Additionally, current systems are not designed to use flammable refrigerants. Using these may create additional concerns:
* Use of flammable refrigerants in mobile A/C systems is illegal in many states: Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, District of Columbia
* Under the Clean Air Act, any refrigerant blend that contains CFCs, HCFCs, or HFCs cannot be vented by anyone and must be recovered at service or vehicle disposal.
* Only technicians certified under the Clean Air Act can purchase blend refrigerants that contain CFCs or HCFCs.
* Service facility contamination from other refrigerants and contamination of shop tools including charging and recovery/recycle equipment
Equipment that is certified to meet the SAE standards and the Clean Air Act to service CFC-12 or HFC-134a mobile A/C systems should not be used to recover or recharge a blend or other refrigerant due to contamination and possible damage to the equipment and other mobile A/C systems.
The use of a refrigerant identifier is recommended to protect the HFC-134a mobile A/C fleet and shop equipment from contamination.
For more information, visit the MACS web site: www.macsw.org.
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