Busworld prides itself on being the largest bus-and-coach-only B2B exhibition in the world. The 2023 edition, held in Brussels from October 7–12, included HVAC OEMs such as Konvekta, Valeo, Hispacold and Thermo King showcasing R744 (CO2)-based HVAC systems.

ATMOsphere (publisher of R744.com) attended the event and found that multiple OEMs are already marketing and deploying heat pumps based on R744 at scale. The trade fair was attended by Konvekta, a member of the Clean Cooling Coalition, a coalition of progressive companies that advocate for stronger measures across mobile and stationary HVAC&R systems in both the EU F-gas Regulation and the PFAS Restriction Proposal, other companies exhibiting natural refrigerant-based systems – Valeo, Hispacold and Thermo King – and Turkey- and China-based OEMs.

Caption 1: Konvekta’s R-744 based heat pump for single-deck zero-emissions buses

ATMOsphere delegates interviewed Karsten Mundt, Sales Director International – Bus Division, of Konvekta, a Germany-based OEM specialized in air-conditioning, heating, ventilation and refrigeration for earthbound utility vehicles with natural refrigerants, to reflect on the market and its future from a refrigerant perspective.

Mundt: Indeed, we are proud to have been the first one to believe in R-744 as a refrigerant for heat pumps in mobile systems. This week at Busworld 2023 we are showcasing a single-deck bus R744-based air-water heat pump system, with over 3,000 units already operating in many European capitals, and a system for double-deck buses, also air-water heat pump for the U.K., one of the first system for this market.

ATMOsphere: Walking across the booths at the fair, what is your take on the refrigerant transition in the industry?

Mundt: I sense a strong trend towards R-744: no matter the booth you walk into, everyone is promoting natural refrigerants. Everybody has R-744 systems already on the market, or is committing R&D to this technology, whether air-air or air-water.

Caption 2: Konvekta’s R744-based air-water heat pump system for double-deck zero-emissions buses

ATMOsphere: What about the efficiency performance of R-744 systems in high ambient temperatures?

Mundt: Konvekta units are certified up to 47°C [116.6°F], and we have some vehicles running in Southern France that are confirmed to be operating smoothly by our customer, even during summertime. At the moment, there may be some areas in Europe where we cannot achieve the highest performances, yet our R&D is confident the solution is near. We are strong supporters of R744, and, in any case, natural refrigerants.

ATMOsphere: EU F-gas – what do you think about the provisional agreement reached by the European Parliament and the Council?

Mundt: It is a hot topic – It seems mobile air-conditioning has not been tackled by any ban; this is really disappointing. The products are on the market already in large quantities; we were hoping that at least for electric vehicles there could be a ban on f-gases to take care of the environment and stop these emissions. We see customers still buying large fleets of vehicles with outdated refrigerants that from our perspective are not necessary anymore. There is no cost problem: the CAPEX may be higher for systems running with naturals, but OPEX are favorable. Anyhow, we are happy to see the phase out of HFCs by 2050 – this will reduce drastically the amount of HFCs on the market. Companies relying on them should be worried about future stranded assets. However, as said, the trend towards naturals is clear: for instance, tenders in Europe usually require bidders to provide systems with a GWP below 5. The market is already ahead of the regulators in Brussels – a clearer signal from the EU in our industry would be welcomed.

Caption 3: Valeo’s R-744-based system

ATMOsphere: PFAS – any discussion here at Busworld 2023?

Mundt: We are mentioning this topic to our customers and other interested passers-by: fluorinated refrigerants are currently under the siege of both the EU F-gas Regulation and REACH. Alternatives such as ours are available, but awareness in the automotive world is still little, unfortunately, especially for refrigerants. As we strive to provide zero emissions vehicles, there cannot be disregard for the refrigerants that leak from HVAC systems contributing drastically to global warming and drinking water contamination.

Caption 4: Thermo King R-744-based system

ATMOsphere: Any last thought about the future of the industry regarding the refrigerant transition?

Mundt: It will be a future with natural refrigerants – it is clear from the talks here, as well as the direction of travel of the big OEMs. And this is happening not only in Europe: we are receiving requests from fleet operators to bring sustainable systems with natural refrigerants in the Middle East, Africa and Asia too.

Caption 5: Hispacold’s R-744-based system