The move to electrified transport is one of the biggest opportunities facing those working in automotive air-conditioning. Battery and driveline thermal management systems increasingly rely on refrigeration circuits, while heat pumps are providing energy-efficient cabin comfort during the colder months.
Autonomous driving tech also needs a lot of cooling to keep the powerful computers operational and guess what? Refrigerant circuits to the rescue again.
It all means that if the air-conditioning in an EV develops a fault, it impacts almost all onboard systems. Worst case, the vehicle just stops working.
Suddenly, an auto-AC technician is the most sought-after tradesperson and those with top-notch diagnostic skills plus knowledge at the cutting edge of technology are in high demand all year round.
In other words, this development will eliminate seasonality from the auto-AC business for good.
To work on electrified vehicle thermal management systems, an understanding of electric compressor design, three-phase motor operation, and electronic compressor control is required.
High-voltage systems used in hybrid, electric and hydrogen fuel cell drivetrains necessitate specific PPE, tools and procedures and that’s before you tackle heat pump systems with their unique designs, components and modes of operation.
Several refrigerants are under review for electric vehicle thermal management as R134a is phased down and R1234yf faces an uncertain future owing to concerns over PFAS regulation proposals that could cause it to be banned in Europe.
That’s right, just as this momentum starts to build in the changeover from R134a to R1234yf, HFO refrigerants including R1234yf and some HFCs are potentially on the chopping block in Europe, the United States and elsewhere over concerns that they are per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that do not easily break down and start to accumulate in the environment and living organisms, then make their way up the food chain in potentially high concentrations.
R1234yf is also not that efficient in automotive heat pump applications, which reduces EV battery range in cold weather and compounds the effect low temperatures already have on battery performance.
Alternatives that provide improved performance and efficiency will be vital for electrification in the long term.