The European Commission has issued an official note allowing carmakers to continue using high Global Warming Potential (GWP) refrigerant R134a in the air-conditioners of new types of vehicles until the end of 2012. The decision follows DuPont and Honeywell communicating in late 2011 that unlike what was previously thought, they will not be able to supply the full amount of 1234yf refrigerant needed until the 4th quarter of 2012.
The supply shortage of the refrigerant that car manufacturers have chosen for complying with the EU MAC Directive (Directive 2006/40/EC), which as of January 2011 requires mobile air-conditioners (MACs) of newly approved types of vehicles to use a refrigerant with GWP below 150, has lead to inconsistencies in the functioning of the internal market: There have been dissimilar legal interpretations by different national authorities, with some allowing and others refusing type-approval of non compliant types of vehicles.
1234yf production facilities in China and Japan disrupted
“The new facility for [1234yf] mass production in China, that should be ready for production at the beginning of 2012, is still not operating due to a new and unexpectedly cumbersome registration process to be completed”, mentions the note as the main reason for the 1234yf supply shortage. “On the one hand, the production facility in Japan, which was disrupted by the events following the earthquake of 11 March 2011, produces only very small volumes of the refrigerant”.
No infringement procedures for MAC Directive non-conformity until end 2012
In light of the shortage of the refrigerant and until December 2012, the European Commission will refrain from launching infringement procedures for the non-conformity with the approval requirements of vehicles manufactured before 31 December 2012.
Honeywell’s 1234yf patent revoked in Europe
Following oral proceedings at the end of March 2012, the European Patent Office (EPO) issued in mid April a decision revoking Honeywell’s European patent regarding a family of chemicals that includes 1234yf.
The patent was opposed in its entirety on the grounds of insufficiency and lack of novelty and inventive step, with the list of companies forming the opposition and filing individual formal objections with EPO including Arkema France, Daikin Industries, Asahi Glass Co., Daimler AG, European Automobile Manufacturers Association ACEA, BMW AG, Mexichem, Solvay Fluor and European patent attorney Michael Wallinger.
German authorities to re-assess 1234yf environmental and health risks under EU Regulation on chemical safety in 2012
1234yf is one of the 36 substances that are scheduled for evaluation within 2012 by the Member States Competent Authorities under the substance evaluation process of the REACH Regulation, the EU Regulation on chemicals and their safe use (REACH - EC 1907/2006).
1234yf (tetrafluoropropene or polyhaloalkene) is included in the European Chemical Agency’s (ECHA) Community Rolling Action Plan (CoRAP) that lists 90 substances that will undergo evaluation in 2012-2014 as there is a suspicion that their manufacture and/or use could pose risks to human health or the environment. The substance evaluation will allow for clarification of such risks.
As a result, the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) has commissioned German national authorities responsible for REACH implementation to assess in 2012 the environmental and health risks of the chemical.