hydrocarbons21.com talked to Andy Granger, General Manager of Reymer Pty Ltd, the Australian manufacturer of the OKA on/off road vehicle that was the first OEM in the world to use hydrocarbon refrigerant in their air-conditioning system. UPDATED with information on the regulatory barrier preventing the use of hydrocarbons in Queensland.
hydrocarbons21.com: What triggered initially Reymer’s decision to test, develop and employ hydrocarbon mobile air-conditioning (MAC) for the OKA special purpose on/off road vehicle?
Andy Granger: There are two main reasons why we opted for hydrocarbons. First of all, as an Australian company, we are constantly faced with the problem of ozone layer depletion. Skin cancer is a major issue here and we have a social responsibility not to use gases that are harmful to the ozone layer. But clearly we are a business and hence there are also business reasons for all decisions we take. Our development engineers were keen to use a “colder” gas as our vehicles operate in some of the hottest ambient temperatures in the world. Our packaging space is very limited and hydrocarbons give us a highly efficient solution whereby we can get more cold air out of the system for the same energy input and by using the same standard sized compressor.
This is a big advantage with hydrocarbons, as one of the challenges that we face as a vehicle manufacturer is that with increasingly stringent limits on pollutant emissions (NOx, CO, non-methane hydrocarbons, particulates etc), we actually need to air-condition the vehicle cabin more and more. Each time the emissions regulations get tighter, there is an increase in the amount of heat that is given up by the engine that goes partly into the cab structure, and which then goes into the driver’s space. So we need to put more and more cold air in that space to effectively control the temperature. But we cannot keep on putting bigger and bigger air-conditioning systems in because we have a limitation on space.
hydrocarbons21.com: Who were the most valuable partners in OKA’s project with hydrocarbon MAC?
Granger: We collaborate with HyChill, the Melbourne based manufacturer of HC refrigerants and who have been with us every step of the way in speccing the correct compressors, lubricants and trigger pressures.
We also had the valuable contribution of a qualified air-conditioning engineer – Ross Theobald – on our R&D team. He had a good insight into the benefits of upgrading the thermal efficiency of our system by using hydrocarbon refrigerants. Let’s just say that hydrocarbon met our overall expectations.
hydrocarbons21.com: What type of measures have you implemented to address any safety concerns pertaining flammability of hydrocarbons?
Granger: We use HyChill Minus 30 refrigerant and have issued very complete instruction on the checking and charging of the system. This is very much safety oriented and is to be found on our public website. We make servicing workshops aware of the flammability issues through this service bulletin. However, we have to mention that in Queensland – a fairly important state here, the government essentially bans the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants in vehicles, largely due to mine safety regulations, so we have to charge with R134a for that application. In Queensland, technicians handling hydrocarbons are required to get authorisation from the Department of Mines, while hydrocarbon systems have to be registered with the same Department. License and system registration fees apply an effective trade barrier to the use of hydrocarbons.
Our view is that leaks from air-conditioning systems are gradual and that the high efficiency and non-toxic nature of hydrocarbons more than make up for any increase in flammability. The flammability issue has often been overplayed: after all vehicles are full of highly flammable materials – hydrogen from batteries, half full fuel tanks containing highly explosive petrol / gas mix and brake fluid which has a low flash point and which is implicated in many vehicle crash fires. Probably the biggest vehicle fire culprit is ordinary engine oil that gets over-heated in turbochargers.
hydrocarbons21.com: Earlier in 2011, you announced that in addition to the use of hydrocarbons in the “OKA” brand of four wheel drive vehicles, the entire line of European-built AVIA trucks, that would shortly go on sale, would also be equipped with HyChill hydrocarbon refrigerants. How is progress with this endeavour?
Granger: I have had a long involvement with AVIA – I was on their management team in Prague for several years. Reymer has the distribution rights for Australasia and the current exchange rates are conducive to bringing the trucks in. It’s currently a matter of prioritising the use of funds. When we start, then we will charge the air-conditioning system with HyChill hydrocarbon refrigerant.
hydrocarbons21.com: Do your consider hydrocarbons suitable for road vehicles on top of on/off road vehicles and trucks? Why in your opinion have they not widely been deployed yet in MAC worldwide?
Granger: Vehicle manufacturers (OEMs) tend to buy systems from tier 2 suppliers – we are a little different in as much as the supply chain for OKA is more fragmented and locally based. The tier 2 suppliers that provide the systems seem to be more dependent on large corporations and they are also risk averse. Hence OEMs were buying MACs on a design-deliver-install basis and which were optimised around R134a – it’s classic corporate inertia. Recent legislation in the EU banning R134a from this year on in new vehicles has acted as a stimulus for OEMs to look more fundamentally at MAC development. This will result in alternative refrigerants being used and I think hydrocarbons now stand a good chance of rapid adoption by OEMs globally.
hydrocarbons21.com: What would be your top 3 recommendations to help hydrocarbons gain market share in mobile air-conditioning worldwide?
Granger: Legislation, legislation and legislation. The auto industry is slow to react unless pushed by legislation or where it sees legislation on the horizon and acts to pre-empt it for commercial gain. The pressure to clean up on HFCs has been very much on the agenda of the European Green Party and as I have mentioned, this has had the significant result of R134a being banned in the EU in MAC through legislative means.