Thursday, 29 January 2009

The man from Du Pont, he says yes!

9am, and a man from Du Pont (which I think is the world's biggest chemical company) knocks on my door. I had forgotten he was coming and had just returned from the parliament's gym. He stood in his suit for our conversation while I stood, dripping sweat, in my shorts (but after 40 years as a runner I bet my naked leg muscles were better than his covered ones).

The topic was HFCs, hydrofluorocarbons, which are used as refrigerants in supermarket chill chests, in air conditioning, and in foam insulation. Those in use today have an average global warming potential many times greater than CO2.

My Du Pont man proposes the creation of a trading system to discourage their use as an alternative to taxes or an outright ban. No doubt corporate self interest prevails but the idea has merits.

But I was interested to hear the latest on car air conditioning systems because I was involved in shaping the current legislation a few years ago (often pointing out that my car, a Nissan Micra, did not have an air conditioning system).

The refrigerant most often used is HFC134a, made in Runcorn by Ineos Fluor (ex ICI) which has a global warming potential of 1,500. The law we passed says that no new car from 2011 can use HFCs with a GWP greater than 150. This was set because there is an HFC with a GWP of this amount, although many in the car industry plan in future to use CO2 as a refrigerant which has a GWP of just 1 - but it has a few design problems, if it were to leak into the vehicle the driver might fall asleep.

What was interesting was to learn that Du Pont has now developed an HFC refrigerant suitable for car air conditioning with a GWP not of 1,500 but of just 4.

It's a text book example of how european environmental regulation drives forward innovation and brings products to the market.

Let's have more!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for an Interesting post. But beware of new chemical ¨miracle¨ solutions. GWP is not the only point to evaluate.

The latest attempts by Honeywell and DuPont to keep the car air conditioning market is called 1234-yf.

Maybe what the DuPont man forgot to tell you is that this chemical is flammable and when it burns it decomposes into highly toxic gases, thereby putting in risk passengers and rescue personnel in case of an accident. The product's material safety data sheet classifies it as ¨extremely flammable gas¨.

He also forgot to mention that long-term effects of this new refrigerant on the atmosphere are unknown, although there is already evidence of impact on biodiversity. And also that the price will likely be much higher than the current refrigerant, thus creating an incentive for the long-term use of R134a in developing countries.

About CO2, he probably did not remember that there are several solutions available in the market today to avoid high concentrations in the passenger cabin, and that it is classified by international standards as the highest class in terms of safety. Besides the fact that it is a natural, well known substance, that several tests show it can lead to better efficiency than current systems.

Having a natural alternative which works, is it worth taking so many risks?

More importantly, first was the ozone-layer, now global warming. are we going to wait and see what is next?

Hywel said...

Or do without Air Con in cars which, certainly in the UK I don't see the need for.