It may seem strange to have a favorite refrigerant, but I have to say folks that R-134a is it. 134a is how I got my start in the refrigerant industry back in 2007. Back then I was a corporate purchaser in charge of buying R-134a for the company’s various dealerships. My job was to figure out what dealers needed it, how much they needed, and what the market was doing on price.
The goal was to send a purchase order at just the right time to just the right vendor. If done right then the dealer I bought for would have an aggressively priced product in a very competitive market. If done incorrectly then my dealer could end up priced out of the market or they could end up with a surplus of inventory that sits on the shelf as the price goes down and down.
Doing this job allowed me to reach out to quite a few folks in the industry. I got to know them and I even got a few ties from Refron back when they were still a thing. (They were bought by Airgas and Airgas was bought by Hudson.) Because of all of this history I have with R-134a it is hands down my favorite refrigerant.
Last week when I was writing my R-22 pricing prediction article I had a lot of feedback and thoughts from various people within the industry on what they thought would happen. R-22 is the hot topic nowadays. I attempted to get some similar feedback for R-134a and while I got some the enthusiasm was much lighter.
In this article we’re going to take a look at what the market did this year on R-134a and what we can expect for next year. That being said, R-134a is a very volatile refrigerant and it can be difficult to predict what will happen. I remember in one year I saw the price go from sixty dollars a cylinder up to two-hundred and twenty a cylinder. You just never really know what will happen.
As I’ve mentioned in the past I am an analyst by trade and you cannot be an analyst without the proper facts and data. I take the same approach when it comes to looking at refrigerant pricing. Because of that, I like to take into account specific considerations before we move onto the pricing prediction part of our article. Let’s take a look:
- R-134a Pricing Volatility
- I mentioned this briefly in our previous section but it’s worth touching on it again. The pricing on R-134a can change on a whim. I had one of my contacts within the industry even say that it’s impossible to predict. That didn’t give me much confidence in this article, but I’m still going to go through the work here and give everyone my two cents.
- The EPA’s SNAP Rule 20 was Overturned
- The EPA’s SNAP Rule 20 was a rule introduced back in 2015 that aimed at phasing down HFC refrigerants. R-134a’s mandatory phase down was to occur in the year 2o20. (2021 model year) This ruling was overturned in the summer of last year and there were a series of appeals. Eventually though the EPA realized that it wasn’t going to happen and they rescinded their SNAP Rule 20. That means that the 2020 year deadline for vehicles using R-134a was now gone… well sort of.
- States With Their Own HFC Phase Downs
- When it was realized that the EPA’s country wide phase down of HFC refrigerants wasn’t going to happen a number of States decided to take matters into their own hands. They were going to emulate the EPA’s now defunct SNAP Rule 20 and have their own State-Wide HFC phase down. California started this but we have had four other States follow suit. Many more may be joining this coalition of States soon. These States are large and account for a high amount of the Nation’s GDP. Trust me when I say that vehicle manufacturers are watching these developments closely.
- More and More Vehicles are Using 1234yf
- R-134a is a dying brand of refrigerant. Just like it’s predecessor R-12, R-134a is going away. Rather it is through mandatory phase out or just by companies switching to the new HFO refrigerant 1234yf. However it happens you should know that it IS happening. Vehicle manufacturers want to be on the right side of history and they want to have one process over many. Having their vehicles take 1234yf is a much easier solution. Each year that passes we have more and more cars on the road that are using 1234yf. That means less demand for R-134a which could in turn lower the pricing.
- R-134a Added to the Refrigerant Sales Restriction
- The biggest change this year on R-134a wasn’t all of the court cases going back and forth. No, as far as pricing wise I believe the biggest change was the introduction of R-134a to the EPA’s Refrigerant Sales Restriction. In the past anybody could buy a cylinder of R-134a from Sams or Wal-Mart. However, as of January 1st, 2018 you could no longer buy cylinders of R-134a unless you were 609 certified with the EPA. That meant that all of the do-it-yourselfers and the hoarders of automotive supplies could no longer purchase R-134a. (Well they could, but only in small pound quantities.) This decrease in demand could have lessened the price over this 2018 year.
Ok folks so now that we have a clear picture on what’s happening with R-134a we can now begin to give a prediction on what the pricing will look like next year. First though let’s take a look at what happened this year.
Around January of last year I wrote a similar article on R-134a. At the time of writing the article R-134a was a just hair over one-hundred dollars a cylinder. Depending on where you looked at you could find a range between one-hundred to one-hundred and ten dollars a cylinder. This pricing was wholesale. What that means is that in order to obtain this price back then you had to buy around a pallet at a time. (A pallet of refrigerant is around forty cylinders.) The resale price at this time was right around one-hundred and fifty a cylinder upwards to one-hundred and seventy dollars.
The prices today, ten months later, have gone down a bit. Instead of seeing wholesale pallet prices at around one-hundred we are seeing between eighty and ninety dollars. So, about a ten percent drop. I would attribute this drop due to the Refrigerant Sales Restriction we mentioned earlier. On the retail side of things we’re looking right about the same price level as before: One-hundred and fifty dollars. If we look at Ebay.com today we can see quite a few cylinders right around that same price.
So, the question now is what’s next? What will happen for 2019? Truth be told I don’t see much changing for the next year. I feel like the popularity of 1234yf still hasn’t quite reached it’s peak yet and there are still so many vehicles on the road taking R-134a. There is talk from the Trump Administration on removing the Refrigerant Sales Restriction on R-134a. If that happens then we could see prices rise an additional ten to fifteen percent.
If I was to guess I would say we’re going to hover right around ninety to one-hundred dollars for most of next year. We will most likely see the eighty to ninety dollar price for the rest of this year and earlier winter of next year but as the season begins to warm up and the demand comes back we should see the price tick up to that ninety to one-hundred dollar range. And, if the sales restriction goes away maybe slightly over one-hundred dollars.
I want to close this article by stating that this was a prediction and it is just that, a guess. No one knows for sure what will happen to the R-134a market next year and if they say they do then they’re lying. It’s a complete guessing game. I can only provide my analysis on the matter and go from there.
Lastly, I want to mention that this is one man’s analysis on the market. We here at RefrigerantHQ are not liable for any business losses or gains when it comes to buying and selling R-134a.