HFO-1234yf – What’s Required 

    Unless you’ve been living under a rock or haven’t kept up with 
the ever changing automotive industry then you probably haven’t 
heard that almost all fasteners are metric these days. Oh, you 
already know that? OK, then, did you know we are switching 
refrigerants again? You did, ah? Do you know about all of the 
new regulations and requirements for HFO-1234yf usage? 
 Not sure? Well, it’s time you crawled out from under that rock 
and get ready for some new regulation that will affect 
you and your profession.

    SAE standard J2843, “R-1234yf (HFO-1234yf) Recovery equipment for flammable refrigerants used in mobile air conditioning systems”, establishes the minimum equipment requirements for the recovery, recycling, and recharging of R-1234yf. This regulation covers all the refrigerant that has been removed, filtered, and reused for any mobile air conditioning system designated as a R-1234yf system.

Recovery Machine Requirements

          We’ve all been cruising along with our R-134 recovery machines for the past 20 years or so with not much thought of the overall condition of the machine. Most of the time we've been working the machines to the nth degree.  As long as it was making money, keep pushing the refrigerant through it. Of course, some shops make it a habit of changing the filter on a regular basis or at least once at the beginning of the season, others it’s not on their “to-do” list at all.

        Refrigerant identifying is an even bigger concern because of the small amounts of the actual R-1234yf in these newer systems too.  The cost of the new refrigerants also means there is an even greater chance of a boot leg refrigerant getting into the market place that can effectively and catastrophically ruin that new recovery machine you just purchased.  In the past all of these processes were left up to the shop or technician and was very loosely monitored. The latest requirements for the new recovery machines have taking the decision making out of the operator’s hands and now have basically taking control of a lot of these concerns. 

Refrigerant Identifiers

        Recovery/recycling/recharging equipment for R-1234yf requires integration with a refrigerant identifier either internally or an external unit as part of the standard operating procedure. This is to avoid cross contamination between the various other mobile air conditioning refrigerants. All recovery machines should meet the J2843 and J2927 or J2912 government standards. SAE J2912 applies to external identifiers that connect to the R1234yf recovery machines. SAE J2927 is for built-in refrigerant identifiers. (Recovery machines that can service both R-134a and R-1234yf systems is covered by SAE J3030.)

Filter servicing

            In the past, on older machines, filter replacement was often neglected or in some cases completely ignored. However, the new standards have stepped up the priority of filter replacement to a point that you’ll not be able to ignore it or forget about it anymore. To meet this new mandate for moisture and contaminant removal, the filter must be replaced after 331 lbs. of refrigerant has been filtered through the machine.  

            At 220 lbs. a warning message or warning buzzer will indicate that you are getting close to the maximum refrigerant usage level allowed through the particular machines filter system. As the internal controls of the recovery machine reach that magic 331 lb. level the machine will shut off at the end of cycle it is completing. At this point the machine will cease to operate until you replace the filter and follow the startup procedures found in the service manual.

Fluid Recovery and Weight Accuracy

          All recovery and recharging equipment must meet or exceed the new SAE J2788 standards. This standard allows for a plus or minus 1 ounce recovery accuracy and no more than a ½ ounce discrepancy of the charge accuracy, along with a 95% ­recovery efficiency.  As well as the purity requirements.

Initial (new) Recovery Machine Setup

        As soon as you’ve unpacked your new recovery machine and have all the hoses, bottles, and the other various components ready to go you’ll have to register your machine with the manufacturer. Failure to register your new recovery machine within 30 days of initial startup will cue the machine to freeze operations and no longer function until you properly register your new machine.  

        Different manufacturers will use different procedures, but for the most part these next steps are similar to all of them.  

        An activation code will appear on the screen of the recovery machine when you first turn it on. Save this code for later use. Go to the manufacturers website listed on the recovery machine screen and enter the activation code. If you have not registered before, create a user name and add any additional information required for registration. Once you have completed the on line registration an activation code (authorization code) will be supplied by the manufacturer that you’ll have to enter into your recovery machine. Note: The code must be entered exactly as it appears, capitals, spacing, etc… Hit OK which should bring up a new screen informing you that the activation has been accepted. You’re now ready to use your new machine.

Leak Detectors

        The latest leak detectors can accurately detect refrigerant leaks down to 0.1oz/year (3 grams per year). SAE standard J2913 applies to the new electronic leak detectors. There’s also a related standard, (SAE J1628), which explains the procedure for using an electronic leak detector. These regulations describe the procedures and the sensitivity settings for the leak detector as well as the distance from the leak and the rate of speed in which the sensing probe can analysis the leak. Fluorescent leak detectors are also available for R-1234yf systems and must meet their own set of new standards under the SAE J2297 regulation.

Shop Requirements Regarding Recovery Machines

            New service shops or shops that have never done any air conditioning refrigerant related work before, must inform their local EPA office that they have purchased an A/C recovery machine and can show that they understand the proper use of their approved refrigerant handling equipment and that they have passed the required 609 A/C recovery test. (The EPA can ask any shop at any time to prove they know how to use any recovery machine they have in use as well as answer any questions pertaining to the machine or refrigerant handling.) 

        EPA has made a form available for this certification process. (Most of the equipment sales companies can also provide you with the needed addresses and phone numbers.) If the shop has had a piece of CFC-12 or HFC-134a equipment at any time in the past that was certified with the shop, you are not required to re-submit any new registration paper work for any additional new equipment purchased. This applies even if the shop is purchasing new R - 1234yf recovery machines.
        Service shops must maintain on-site records proving that each person using servicing equipment has been properly trained and certified under Section 609. Records must be maintained for a period of 3 years. Also, the shop must maintain a record (on-site) of any place they have sent any recovered refrigerant for a period of no less than 3 years. 

Mechanic/Recovery Machine Operator Requirements – Section 609

        A 609 test needs to be completed and is required by law for anyone who operates and or sells or barters any type of mobile air conditioning recovery system service to the general public or any other business or profession. The test covers the governmental requirements for operating a mobile air conditioning recovery machines as well as disposal of empty refrigerant containers for R-12, R-134, and R-1234yf. 

        The 609 certification is also supposed to limit the sale and distribution of any refrigerant containing ozone-depleting CFCs or HCFCs to only technicians that have the certification under section 609 of the CAA (Clean Air Act).   Also, it is supposed to limit the sale of R-12 in a containers less than 20 pounds to only certified technicians and installers who have taken the 609 test. Any person who sells or distributes R-12 in containers less than 20 pounds must verify that the purchaser has a certification by an EPA approved section 609 certification program.  The 609 certification is a one time test and does not require any updated or follow up tests later on.

What We Know Right Now

             According to all the scientific studies, R – 1234yf will degrade naturally in the atmosphere in less than a week with a far lower global warming potential than R-12 or R-134a. 

            You can worry if you’d like, but it sounds to me the odds of R – 1234yf causing the car to burst into flames is not likely going to happen even in the worst of circumstances. But, that doesn’t mean I’m going to run out there and hold an open flame to a leaking R-1234yf system. For us old timers, this means ya don’t need to be pulling out your old R-12 Halogen leak detector anytime soon. Looks like it needs remain in that dusty corner of the lower drawer for those nostalgic looks into the past or when we want to show the young techs how we used an open flame to check air conditioning leaks. 

            It’s been said over and over that R – 1234yf would not be sold in a consumer sized container. I had my doubts that was going to last long, and wouldn’t ya know it even before the R – 1234yf systems become a household standard I’ve already found small cans sizes available. 12 oz cans of Opteon™ YF is one supplier that I’ve found marketing to technicians and of course, the consumer.  

                These cans are designed with a left-handed thread that does comply with the J2844 fitting rulings. But, I find it difficult to see how all of this is going to benefit the consumers or their pocket book. It seems that all the effort to ensure the proper use of a recovery machine, the requirements for closer weight control, purity, and leak detection just got thrown out the window if you’re offering a can to the consumer or the novice technician who isn’t following proper procedures. I guess we’ll have to wait and see who gets hot under the collar first. The consumer or the repair industry, because ya can't hide under that rock much longer.