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EU Targets DuPont, Honeywell in Refrigerant Probe
2:52 PM MDT | October 17, 2013 | Ian Young
The European Commission says it has opened an antitrust investigation into agreements between Honeywell and DuPont for the development of a new refrigerant for air conditioning systems in cars. It is also investigating whether Honeywell "may hold and abuse a dominant position over the refrigerant." The new refrigerant, hydrofluoroolefin (HFO)-1234yf, is intended for use in car air conditioning systems, and was jointly developed by Honeywell and DuPont as a replacement for the refrigerant hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-134a, which no longer meets European Union (EU) regulations because of its global-warming potential and is being phased out. HFO1234yf will become the standard refrigerant for car air conditioning in new vehicles in the EU from January 1, 2017.
The EU's selection of HFO-1234yf was the result of a process conducted under the auspices of automotive industry association the Society of Automotive Engineers. The commisison is investigating complaints alleging that Honeywell and DuPont "entered into anticompetitive arrangements as regards the development of the new generation of refrigerants." The commission, specifically, will investigate "whether joint development, licensing, and production arrangements entered into between the two companies in relation to these refrigerants restrict competition on the markets."
The commission is also examining whether Honeywell "engaged in deceptive conduct during the evaluation of HFO-1234yf between 2007 and 2009. It is claimed that Honeywell did not disclose its patents and patent applications while the refrigerant was being assessed and then failed to grant licences on fair and reasonable terms," the commission says.
Honeywell and DuPont, having jointly developed HFO-1234yf in response to the EU phaseout of HFC-134a, formed a 50-50 joint venture in 2010 to build a manufacturing facility for the new product. The plant is due onstream in 2015. Changshu 3F Zhonghao New Chemical Materials (Changshu, China), in which DuPont has a minority stake, is due to start producing HFO-1234yf soon.
Arkema says it filed a complaint to the commission in April 2011 and says it wants a license to make HFO-1234yf. The company says it is "satisfied" with the commission's decision to open proceedings againts Honeywell and DuPont. Arkema, a major player in the fluorine industry, "has conducted for several years intensive research efforts in this area and is ready to invest in an efficient production unit as soon as the legal environment will allow it."
Honeywell says it is "confident that its practices are consistent with the law." DuPont says it is confident that the commission's probe will establish that the company "complied with applicable laws." Honeywell and DuPont each say they intend to cooperate with the commission's investigation.