The Chinese vehicle market is the largest in the world to allow auto manufacturers to use the air-conditioning refrigerant HFC-134a without restriction. But this may soon change. The Chinese government has endorsed the multi-lateral phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons, and China has worked constructively with the United States government to develop a framework for multilateral action under the Montreal Protocol.
Automakers began to use HFC-134a as a refrigerant in the 1990s to replace CFC-12, which was implicated in the destruction of the ozone layer. But HFC-134a is among the most harmful greenhouse gases emitted from motor vehicles, roughly 1,500 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a climate forcer. Japan, the United States, and the European Union have all adopted regulations that set the timelines for phasing out HFC-134a in mobile air-conditioning systems on new vehicles.
This study assesses the feasibility, benefits, and costs of phasing HFC-134a out of the Chinese light-duty motor vehicle fleet. The feasibility assessment focuses on three alternatives: HFO-1234yf, HFC-152a and CO2 (R-744). Because they are favored in the United States and Europe, these refrigerants are the most likely to be adopted by auto manufacturers with a global supply chain. Their climate impact can be as much as 99% lower than that of HFC-134a, including emissions over the operation, service, and end-of-life of the system.
This study considers only the direct climate impacts of the refrigerants themselves. It finds all three refrigerant alternatives to be cost-effective. The impacts of a transition on the competitiveness of Chinese auto makers are expected to be minor. Strategies to improve the energy efficiency of these systems will be assessed in a forthcoming report.
Phasing out HFC-134a from the Chinese fleet could produce a climate benefit equivalent to reducing CO2 emissions by 1.5 billion metric tons through 2050. But the timing of the transition is critical to maximizing this climate benefit. Complete phase-out of HFC-134a is achievable by 2035–2040 if a ban on the use of HFC-134a in new vehicles is in place no later than 2024.