R-134a is the most commonly used refrigerant for automotive applications rather it be your twenty year old Toyota Camry or your Kenworth T-200 semi-truck. Ever since 1993 R-134a has been the staple refrigerant for automotive applications. Before 93 we used R-12 for our vehicles and now, as I write this article in 2018, there is a push to phase down R-134a and replace it with the new HFO refrigerant known as R-1234yf.
This article is going to into the facts of R-134a, some of the most common questions asked about this refrigerant, and some of the most important points of note on the refrigerant, as well as the history of the refrigerant. Let’s dive in and take a look:
|Name - Scientific:||Tetrafluoroethane|
|Name (3):||Freon 134a|
|Name (4):||Forane 134a|
|Name (5):||Genetron 134a|
|Name (6):||Florasol 134a|
|Name (8)||Suva 134a|
|Chemistry (3):||The lower case 'a' indicates an Isomer, or different composition from R-134.|
|Chemistry:||Production by reacting Trichloroethylene with Hydrogen Fluoride.|
|Status:||Shrinking & Phasing Out|
|Future:||Will be phased out across the world soon. (Prediction of 2030)|
|Application:||Automotive: Light duty, medium duty and heavy duty.|
|Application (2):||Heat Pumps, Chillers, Transport Refrigeration, and Commercial Cooling|
|Replacement For:||CFC R-12 Freon|
|Ozone Depletion Potential:||0|
|Global Warming Potential:||1,430|
|Toxicity Levels:||A (No Toxicity Identified.)|
|Flammability Levels:||Class 1 -No Flame Propagation.|
|Lubricant Required:||POE & PAG Oil Lubricants|
|Boiling Point:||-26.3° Celsius or -15.3° Fahrenheit.|
|Critical Temperature:||101.06° Celsius or 213.91° Fahrenheit|
|Critical Pressure:||4059 KPA or 588.71 pound-force per square inch.|
|Auto ignition Temperature:||770° Celsius or 1,418° Fahrenheit|
|Manufacturers:||Various Including: Honeywell, Chemours, Arkema, Mexichem, Chinese, etc.|
|Manufacturing Facilities:||All Over Including: USA, Mexico, EU, China, and others.|
|Color:||Colorless Liquid & Vapor|
|Odor:||None, if you do smell something it is most likely the oil.|
|EPA Certification Required:||Yes, 609 certification required by January 1st, 2018.|
|Require Certification to Purchase?||Yes, 609 certification required by January 1st, 2018.|
|Cylinder Color:||Light Sky Blue|
|Cylinder Design (2):||Thirty Pound Tank|
|Price Point:||Medium $-90-$160 a Cylinder Depending on Conditions.|
|Bulk Purchasing:||Buy R-134a in Bulk|
R-134a Pressure & Temperature Chart
Knowing the pressure and the temperatures associated to the machine you are working on is essential to being able to diagnose any possible issues. Without knowing the temperatures you are more or less walking blind. These pressure checks give you the facts so that you can move onto the next step of your diagnosis. Instead of pasting a large table of information here I will instead direct you to our PT chart for R-134a.
Points of Note
Alright folks so we’ve gone over some of the basic facts about R-134a but now let’s take a look at some of the more interesting points about this refrigerant:
- I mentioned this briefly above but R-134a was designed and began to see use as an alternative product to R-12 Freon, or Dichlorodifluoromethane. R-12 has been around since the 1930’s and was being used in automotive applications for decades until it was discovered that it harmed the Ozone layer. As a replacement product R-134a was introduced into the automotive market in 1993.
- Like it’s predecessor, R-12, R-134a was and is used across a wide array of applications in the automotive world. You can find R-134a in your Ford Focus or you could find it in your gigantic Semi-Trucks or in your Gray-hound Bus. Back in the early 2000’s one of my responsibilities was to purchase R-134 by the pallet or the trailer load and co-ordinate delivery to the company’s various dealerships. It is amazing just how much R-134a a dealership can go through.
- Along with the automotive industry you can find R-134a in various heat pump applications and other commercial refrigeration needs.
- R-134a is also used in quite a few refrigerant blends as well as a key ingredient. Some of these include: R-416A, R-420A, R-423A.
- While R-134a does not have an Ozone Depletion Potential it does have a high Global Warming Potential. (GWP) The higher a GWP number the more damage the product can do towards Global Warming. These high GWP chemicals are known as Greenhouse Gases. Across the world there has been a push to phase down our phase out entirely these high GWP HFC refrigerants.
- Most refrigerants and refrigerant applications are left to professionals. Sure, there are some do-it-yourselfers out there, but for the most part technicians handle the repairs. The exception to this is R-134a and automotive applications. Many people enjoy working on their vehicle and buying a few cans of R-134a and repairing your air conditioning system is no big deal to them. This is a rare exception within the refrigerant industry.
- Building off of my point above, this is why we saw such resistance and upset from the Environmental Protection Agency’s new law that started in 2018. This regulation prevented R-134a cylinder sales to people who are NOT 609 certified. Do-it-yourselfers can still buy individual pound cans but they are restricted are larger purchases. So, they can still do their own repairs, they just can’t hoard cylinders of R-134a in their garage. You can go down to the local auto parts store today or on Ebay and purchase some cans without any issues.
- The European Union has already phased out R-134a on any new vehicle models. Most car manufacturers have switched to the alternative HFO refrigerant known as 1234yf. The plan for the United States was to phase out 134a on new vehicles by the year 2021, but this regulation was delayed due to Federal court rulings. Don’t let this fool you though. R-134a is ending and ending soon even here in the United States.
- A few years back a law-suit was started with the International Trade Commission. The suit claimed that China was dumping low-priced R-134a into the US market which locally based companies were not able to compete with. In order to resolve this issue anti-dumping tariffs were issued against Chinese R-134a. The issuing of these tariffs caused the national price of R-134a to jump nearly twenty dollars for a thirty pound cylinder.
- Since these tariffs were issued the price point for R-134a has stayed relatively stable over the past few years. (I write this in summer of 2018.)
- In another ten or fifteen years R-134a applications will be a rarity or seen as an antique. While the new HFO-12134yf may not be the perfect solution it IS the refrigerant that all of the vehicle manufacturers are running to. Another possible alternative to look at is Daimler’s experiments with CO2 or R-744 in their vehicles.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What Happened to R-12?
- As you know, R-12 was the default for automotive air conditioning for decades but in the 1980s it was discovered that R-12 was harming the Ozone layer. Because of this, R-12 was phased out across the world and was replaced by R-134a.
- What is R-134a?
- R-134a is an HFC refrigerant that is intended to be used in automotive applications. It was designed to replace R-12. It has no Ozone Depletion Potential but has a high Global Warming Potential.
- Can I Buy R-134a Without a EPA 609 License?
- No, as of January 1st, 2018 you can no longer purchase cylinders of R-134a without a proper 609 Environmental Protection License. This is due to what’s called the ‘Refrigerant Sales Restriction.’ The good news here though is that without a license you are still able to purchase cans of refrigerant that contain less then two pounds of product.
- What Kind of Certification Do I Need to Work With R-134?
- As I mentioned above, you will need what’s called a 609 certification. 609 comes into play when you are working on an automotive air conditioning application and ONLY when you are working on an automotive application. If you wish to work on other AC units you will need to obtain your 608 certification as well. Once you have 609 certification you can purchase, handle, and install refrigerants into automotive applications.
- Is R-134a Toxic or Flammable?
- No, R-134a is rated as an A1 on the ASHRAE ‘s safety rating scale. The A stands for the product not being toxic or harmful. The 1 stands for no hint of flame propagation. This is a very safe refrigerant.
- What Kind of Oil do I Use for R-134a Systems?
- In most cases you are going to be using what’s known as PAG Oil. PAG oil, or Polyalkylene Glycol, is a fully synthetic hygroscopic oil specifically designed for automotive air conditioner compressors. It is used in R-134a air conditioning systems to lubricate the compressor. When looking at PAG oil you will notice various numbers such as PAG46 or PAG100. These numbers refer to the viscosity of the oil, similar to 10W30 oil. In order to determine the correct PAG viscosity for your vehicle you will need to look up the specifications of your make and model of your vehicle either online or in the instruction manual.
- Is R-134a Being Phased Out in the United States?
- Well, at one time it was. Way back in the summer of 2015 the EPA announced that R-134a was NOT to be used in new vehicles starting with the model year 2021. Since this regulation came out though there was a court ruling that overturned the proposed rules. Since then the EPA has retracted it’s regulations and as of today there is not a set phase out date.
- What Countries Are Using R-134a?
- Nearly every country in the world today is using R-134a. Yes, some countries have phased it out on newer vehicles, but there are still very many cars out there that are still using 134a. We won’t see a total vanishing of R-134a usage for at least another twenty or thirty years. Remember, we have to wait for all of these old vehicles to die.
- Can I Mix R-134a With R-12 or 1234yf?
- No, it is never a good idea to mix refrigerants. Refrigerants are designed to work in specific conditions and specific pressures. Mixing refrigerants together will cause it not to change states and will prevent your system from working correctly.
- How do I Store R-134a?
- Storage requirements for R-410A are the same as other refrigerants. Cylinders should be stored in a clean, dry area, and out of direct sunlight. If you have cylinders in the back of your work van ensure that the temperature does not rise above one-hundred and twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Keep valves tightly closed and caps in place when cylinders are not in use. This will prevent any damage to your product, to your facility, or to your vehicle.
- What Sized Containers Does R-134a Come In?
- R-134a can come in a variety of container sizes. The most common that we see today are your one to two pound cans or your standard thirty pound light-blue cylinder.
History of R-134a
In order to understand the full history of R-134a we first have to look at it’s predecessor. Before R-134a there was R-12. R-12 was one of first mainstream refrigerants used throughout the world. In fact, R-12 is where the brand name of Freon comes from. In order to trace back it’s origins we have to go all the way back to the 1930’s and a partnership between General Motors and the DuPont company. Through this partnership the two companies were able to invent a safe, reliable, and cost efficient class of refrigerants known as CFCs and HCFCs.
These new classifications of refrigerants were revolutionary. Before these came to the marketplace the world only had access to basic refrigerants such as Hydrocarbons and Carbon Dioxide. These previous refrigerants were either not very efficient, operated at too high of pressure (Like CO2), or they were just not safe. One of the most popular refrigerants back then was R-717, or Ammonia. Ammonia is toxic when we are exposed to it and having an Ammonia operated refrigerator was a not something consumers wanted inside their home.
Because of the revolution CFC and HCFC refrigerants caused R-12 along with R-11, R-22, and R-502 were found all over the world in various applications. By the time we got into the 1970’s the product was everywhere ranging from automobiles, refrigerators, freezers, ice machines, vending machines, industrial plants, refrigerated trucks, and on and on. It was in the 1980’s that a team of scientists out of California realized that all of the Chlorine that was in CFC and HCFC refrigerants were causing damage to the Ozone layer. When vented or leaked the refrigerant would drift up and into the atmosphere. It is there where the Chlorine would do it’s damage. Eventually it got so bad that a thinning of the Ozone layer began to form over the Arctic. The scientists noticing this sounded the alarm and the world’s governments took action by creating the Montreal Protocol.
The Montreal Protocol is a treaty that was signed in the late 1980’s by more then one-hundred countries. It’s goal was to rid the world of using Ozone depleting substances like CFC and HCFC refrigerants. This treaty was enacted in countries all over the world. The first target was CFC refrigerants such as R-12. In 1992 R-12 was phased out of the automotive market in the United States and was replaced with the newer HFC refrigerant known as R-134a. R-134a had the benefit of not containing Chlorine so with its usage there would be no danger to the Ozone layer. The next refrigerant to go was the CFC refrigerant known as R-502 in the mid 1990’s. As time went by there were other CFC and HCFC refrigerants phased out but the big change didn’t happen until 2010.
As I mentioned above 1993 was the beginning of R-134a usage. Since then it has ballooned and grew so that every vehicle around the globe was using it. It was a rare occurrence to find something other than R-134a or R-12 used in vehicles. The only exceptions that you would find were with refrigerated transport trucks such as ice cream trucks. In these instances you would either see a mixture of R-134a and R-404A or a straight R-404A system. Along with R-134a there were many other HFC refrigerants that began to take root. Some of these were R-404A and R-410A. (404A was used for supermarket freezers, ice machines, vending machines, and refrigerated transport. R-410A was used for home and commercial air conditioning.)
It was in the early 2000’s that a new problem was discovered with the currently used HFC refrigerants. Instead of refrigerants harming the Ozone layer the concern became the refrigerants impact on Global Warming. You see refrigerants are seen as a Greenhouse Gas. A Greenhouse Gas is a gas that can be released and get trapped in the atmosphere. These trapped gases cause Global Warming to accelerate. In order to measure a chemical or products risk for Global Warming a new scale was created called Global Warming Potential. The baseline measurement for this scale was Carbon Dioxide, or R-744. CO2’s GWP is one.
The downside of HFC refrigerants is their very high Global Warming Potential. As an example, R-404A has a GWP of three-thousand nine-hundred and twenty-two times that of Carbon Dioxide. Can you begin to see why these are seen as a problem? It was around 2010 when the push to begin phasing down HFC refrigerants began. Everyone’s first target was R-404A as it had the absolute highest GWP of them all. Depending on the applications 404A was to be replaced with Hydrocarbons, lower GWP HFC refrigerants, or the new HFO refrigerant line from Chemours and Honeywell.
Next in everyone’s sights was R-134a. While 134a didn’t have near as high as a GWP of 404A it still had a large number coming in at one-thousand four-hundred and thirty. At first the push to phase out 134a was stalled as there wasn’t a good substitute out there. After some time the two main refrigerant innovators Honeywell and Chemours came out with a new refrigerant under their HFO line known as R-1234yf. This new refrigerant worked very similar to R-134a but had a GWP of only four. That’s a heck of a difference! The only concern with this new refrigerant was that it was rated as an A2L refrigerant. What that means is that it is slightly flammable. (Remember, R-134a isn’t flammable at all.)
The European Union jumped at the chance for a 134a alternative. They enacted legislation called the ‘MAC Directive,’ to prevent R-134a from being used in new vehicles as of the 2013 model year. While this directive didn’t come out and mention R-134a by name it did state that no refrigerants with a GWP greater then one-hundred and fifty could be used in new automobiles. Europe switched over to 1234yf and the demand for R-134a began to die down. One thing to mention here though is that because 1234yf is slightly flammable there was some debate on rather or not it was a safe product to use. The German car company Daimler ran test after test to ensure it’s safety. In one of these tests Daimler claimed that when the refrigerant tank ruptured during an accident the refrigerant ignited and caused a fire to occur. The video can be seen below. In the video there is a test with 1234yf leaking and then there is a test with R-134a leaking. The video speaks for itself.
There were many disputes from numerous companies and organizations from all over the world to on test. Daimler claimed that the new refrigerant was unsafe for use. For a time it seemed like German Automakers were going to fight HFOs tooth and nail. They had their hearts set on R-744 CO2. Since these first tests there have been numerous court battles and fines issued by the European Union but still Germany persisted against 1234yf. Here is the neat part, Daimler began to pursue a different alternative refrigerant for their automobiles, R-744. Yes, that’s right CO2 for vehicles. Over the years Daimler has been testing and innovating with CO2 and as I write this article today they even have some vehicles on the road with it.
Here in the United States we began going through the same route as Europe, just a little bit behind schedule. In the summer of 2015 the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new rule to their SNAP program. This rule called ‘Rule 20,‘ was aimed at phasing down and out HFC refrigerants including R-134a. This regulation aimed at preventing vehicle manufacturers from using R-134a in new vehicles as of model year 2021. These regulations were on the books until August of 2017. At that time a court overturned the EPA’s regulations stating that they had overreached their authority. Since then in the United States there is not a formal R-134a phase out date. This has caused a lot of confusion and unknowns within the automotive refrigerant industry.
1234yf is the future and there isn’t much we can do to get away from it. Auto manufacturers all over the world have begun to switch their new models over to 1234yf. In fact since 2015 the pace of vehicles beings switched over has grown and grown. The chances are high that if you buy a new vehicle today that it’s going to contain 1234yf refrigerant. The question now is when will 134a be phased down within the United States?
Regardless of what happens with these phase outs and phase downs I can be sure of one thing. R-134a is going to be around for a long time. Even if we switch over our new vehicles today there will still be vehicles manufactured last year that will be on the road twenty or thirty years from now. After all, there are still R-12 vehicles out there, right? In closing, R-134a has served it’s purpose. Now it’s time has come and gone. We now need to move towards alternative refrigerants like 1234yf or R-744.