Charging ahead with refrigerants

Jan. 1, 2020
A light vehicle air conditioning system is is designed to be a closed loop system.

A light vehicle air conditioning system is is designed to be a closed loop system.

However, through age and exposure to the harsh operating conditions in the engine compartment, seals dry out and clamps deteriorate, thereby allowing refrigerant to escape. The lower the refrigerant charge, the less efficient the air conditioning system becomes. In 2006, retail sales of replacement refrigerant were in excess of $300 million.

As part of its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) suggested an outright ban on consumer sales of refrigerant. Facing a potentially crippling blow, refrigerant manufacturers and distributors formed an alliance, Automotive Refrigeration Products Institute (ARPI). The industry presented CARB with market size and consumer behavior data, in conjunction with a strategic action plan designed to effectively curb refrigerant leakage.

The industry identified four areas where changes to current industry practices could impact refrigerant loss:

Reduce refrigerant leakage during the recharge process.

Reduce refrigerant leakage during storage.

Reduce leakage through improved instructions and product education.

Better use of kits.

Research conducted by Frost & Sullivan indicates that refrigerant product users are highly invested in the process. The majority of survey respondents are aware of the environmental impact of possible misuse of R-134a recharging products. Forty-one percent of respondents indicate that they actively sought out additional information or instruction on product use and believed they were using the product according to instructions. The manufacturers proposed to reduce leakage by improving the product information, including insight into hazards, and product use instructions as a means of creating a more responsible product user. Kit products include gauges, fittings, stop leak and hoses to provide the user with the tools to prevent leaks.

In 2006, the cost for recharge products ranged from $10 to $40 per kit. The average cost for a professional recharge service was $147, which included the refrigerant. Cost savings was the primary motivator for product users, and most respondents indicated that they likely would have to forgo the use of the air conditioning system if professional service was their only option.

These two key pieces of research laid the groundwork for the industry's message to CARB. ARPI claimed that the product's absence would create a financial hardship for those least prepared to deal with it, and that product changes would significantly reduce the environmental impact of leakage. The industry turned its efforts toward other actions:

Redesigning product packaging to create self-sealing mechanisms for dispensing cans.

Increasing the quantity and quality of information and instructions included with product packaging.

Strategically pricing recharge kit products to encourage kit sales over canister sales.

Proposing a deposit system that encourages recycling of recharge cans.

Both the research information and strategic plan were well received, and by May 2007, CARB chose to consider alternative regulations that effectively spared the industry.

Industry participants now are living up to their end of the bargain by launching new products that reduce leakage and improve consumer product use.

For example, Interdynamics, a leading manufacturer and distributor of do-it-yourself air conditioning service products, recently launched Smart Charge, an electronic DIY mobile air conditioning recharging system. The gauge quickly connects to the vehicle's air conditioning system and electronically measures the charge.

The Smart Charge uses a series of visual and audible instructions to guide the operator through each step. The system's no-fail gauge compensates for the changes in ambient temperature. When the gauge is used in conjunction with Interdynamics' Arctic Freeze refrigerant, Smart Charge recharges the system automatically to 100 percent.