I don't usually worship my air-conditioner, but ours ran virtually non-stop last week when the air here in New Jersey decided to turn sauna-like. In that context, a green tech breakthrough that has just been achieved by General Motors caught my eye.
Apparently, the automaker is the first to begin using what it calls a climate-friendly refrigerant to replace the climate-unfriendly stuff that is currently used in most car air-conditioning systems. The chemical, called an HFO, supposedly has a "global warming potential" of 4. That compares with the score of 1,400 that is associated with what's normally used in vehicles, which is called HFC-134a. If we were to cut out high-impact HFCs, as the Montreal Protocol proposes, we could avoid creating up to 5 to 8 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, according to some figures.
To put things in context, HFCs are classified as "super" greenhouse gases. That means they are among the fastest growing contributors to climate emissions; right now, the estimate is that they will grow by 140 percent before 2020, which compares with 4 percent for the rest of the gunk we release into the air. There has been a petition filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Investigation Agency and the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD) requesting that HFC-134a be stricken from the list of approved refrigerants for motor vehicles.
In a press release about the development, IGSD President Durwood Zaelke suggested that one potential barrier to rapid adoption might be the production and commercialization of HFOs. Here's what he says in the press release:
"The challenge is to get chemical suppliers to make this critical technology available in all countries at an affordable price. ... The more enlightened position would be for the chemical companies to donate their climate-friendly and ozone-friendly technology to the public domain as compensation for the health and economic damage caused by the ozone-depleting and climate-warming gases they marketed in the past."
As with all good things, though, we'll have to wait until it shows up for real: until 2013 to be specific. The first models to be updated with the new refrigerant will be Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac.
OK car executives. Which one of you is next?