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MAC Directive: no evidence to support the safety concerns Julkaistu: 07/03/2014

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A scientific review of the research regarding the safety aspects of the use of refrigerant R1234yf in Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) systems concludes that, there is no evidence of a serious risk in the use of this refrigerant in MAC systems under normal and foreseeable conditions of use.

The review reinforces the conclusions by the German market surveillance authorities the KBA (Kraftfahrt Bundesamt), which stated that there is no sufficient supporting evidence of a serious risk that would entail the intervention of the authorities.

The review of the 2013 KBA testing procedures was conducted as a confidence-building measure that the Commission had proposed to the Member-States. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) reviewed the testing procedures and the review was performed by the JRC in an open and transparent way, involving all stakeholders.

In practical terms this assessment reaffirms the position of the Commission that the automotive manufacturers have the means to mitigate the inherent risks of the use of the refrigerant, which are known and have been studied. The refrigerant is not the only fluid used in vehicles that is flammable or that may cause formation of dangerous emissions when burning. Automotive manufacturers, as part of their responsibility to provide for safe products, have found ways to mitigate these risks in a way that is consistent with a high level of protection for the safety and health of persons.

Although not part of the working group's mandate, some measures to further improve MAC safety have also been presented. Examples such as release valves in MAC circuits, fire extinguisher, reduction of hot surfaces (thermal insulation) and additional ventilation were discussed on different occasions during the working group meetings.

This review will be debated with the Member States on 1 April 2014 in the Technical Committee Motor Vehicles.

Background

Refrigerant R1234yf was chosen by the automotive industry in 2009 to replace the currently used refrigerant R134a - which has a high level of impact on climate change - and to comply with the relevant requirements of the MAC Directive (Directive 2006/40/EC on mobile air-conditioning).

In September 2012, one manufacturer (Daimler) raised concerns about the safety of the use of this refrigerant in their vehicles. These concerns were challenged by other manufacturers. This situation led the KBA to proceed with its own testing.

In its report of October 2013 the KBA concluded that there was no sufficient supporting evidence of a serious risk in the use of the refrigerant that should entail the intervention of the authorities (Level 1 and 2 of the procedures: crash test and refrigerant release test). The report also considered that specific tests on refrigerant release under more extreme conditions (Level 3 of the procedures) had indicated instances of flammability and hydrogen fluoride exposure that the KBA considered deserved further analysis.

The procedures by the KBA do not constitute a full risk assessment. The automotive industry has developed the risk assessment and fault tree analysis on the use of R1234yf in MAC systems, in the framework of cooperative research projects by the SAE International in 2009 and 20131, which concluded that this refrigerant was safe to use in MAC systems.

Given the high level of interest regarding this issue and the fact that not all concerned stakeholders had been involved in the KBA procedures, the Commission proposed to the EU Member States, as a confidence-building measure, that the JRC would review the KBA testing procedures, also taking into consideration the risk assessment performed by the SAE (review of 2012/2013) and testing procedures developed by the suppliers, manufacturers and associations. All relevant stakeholders were given the possibility to contribute to this work. This initiative, which the Commission considered essential to provide transparency and confidence to the process, was welcomed by all parties involved.

The process involved the analysis by the JRC of the report by KBA but also of other tests and analysis related to the use of the refrigerant. Three meetings were held, open to all interested stakeholders. All documents presented and debated in these meeting are available in the Commission's dedicated webpage.

JRC conclusions

Following this consultation process, the JRC has now completed its final report with the following conclusions:

  1. Regarding the general approach to the testing by KBA, the report acknowledges that there is no "Standard" or "Regulatory" testing procedure available for the purpose. Therefore the KBA has legitimately used the experts' judgments and engineering judgments for selecting the test conditions.
  2. Regarding the pre-tests that the KBA carried out to determine the desired test temperature for the refrigerant release tests, the testing of the vehicles followed the objective to reach the highest possible temperatures. The derived scenarios were extreme, but justifiable and reasonable ones, covering urban, extra-urban and highway driving conditions, and fully justified within the scope of the vehicle testing for the purpose of product safety investigations.
  3. Regarding the crash tests, the JRC considered that the approach taken by the KBA was justified.
  4. Regarding the Level 1 and Level 2 tests, the KBA concluded that "results do not provide sufficient supporting evidence of a serious risk within the meaning of the Product Safety Act (ProdSG) with the vehicle types tested hereto warrant the taking of any immediate measures by the KBA pursuant to that Act". The JRC underlined that these tests showed no ignition of refrigerants and very low hydrogen fluoride (HF) release despite the very high temperatures in the engine compartment. Consequently the results as such with the vehicles tested under the conditions as described provided no evidence of a serious risk. The JRC hence supports the evaluation of the KBA that there were no grounds for the authorities to take measures under the European general product safety legislation. Therefore, according to this legislation, the products tested have to be considered safe products2.
  5. Finally, regarding the refrigerant release tests under Level 3, these were not taken into account by KBA as relevant input "for the assessment of a possible risk within the scope of the statutory tasks as product safety authority". This approach is supported by the JRC. One driving force behind the tests carried out under Level 3 is exploring what could happen under assumed extreme conditions not yet covered in Level 1 and Level 2 testing. The research character is also confirmed by going beyond the boundaries and limitations set for Level 1 and Level 2 tests, to verify if the worst case was chosen in the test setup, and considering in Level 3 also the "development of engines which can be expected for the future". Whilst Level 1 and Level 2 tests were realistic and were considered by KBA for their conclusions on risks with respect to the product safety regulations, the Level 3 tests could not be associated with the necessary concrete probability of occurrence, but serve as a general appraisal of the risk. Compared to the scenarios for the realistic Level 1 and Level 2 testing, the probability of Level 3 scenarios must be assumed to be far lower, and not reflecting "normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use" under which the General Product Safety Directive 2001/95/EC applies.
  6. Although not being part of the working group's mandate, during the meetings some measures to further improve MAC safety were presented. Examples such as release valves in MAC circuits, fire extinguisher, reduction of hot surfaces (thermal insulation) and additional ventilation were discussed in different occasions during the working group meetings.

The report

More information

1 : http://www.sae.org/servlets/pressRoom?OBJECT_TYPE=PressReleases&PAGE=showRelease&RELEASE_ID=2181
2 : The vehicles tested with R1234yf were not considered products that could pose risks in certain conditions (in the sense of art 8.1.(b)), or that could pose risks for certain persons (art 8.1.(c)), or that could be dangerous (art 8.1.(d)), or can be considered as dangerous product (art 8.1.(e) and (f)). Therefore they should be considered, in the meaning of the General Product Safety Directive, as safe products: according to Article 2 (b) ‘safe product’ shall mean any product which, under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use including duration and, where applicable, putting into service, installation and maintenance requirements, does not present any risk or only the minimum risks compatible with the product's use, considered to be acceptable and consistent with a high level of protection for the safety and health of persons (…) The feasibility of obtaining higher levels of safety or the availability of other products presenting a lesser degree of risk shall not constitute grounds for considering a product to be ‘dangerous’.