A technological breakthrough from General Motors (GM) could significantly reduce climate change causing emissions. In July, GM announced what is known as an HFO, a climate-friendly refrigerant to replace HFCs, the super greenhouse gas currently used in auto air conditioning. GM is the first company in the world to announce the replacement of HFCs with HFOs.
This refrigerant was produced for GM by Honeywell and is the culmination of more than a decade of cooperation among private industry, government, and standard-setting organizations. Use of the new refrigerant will start in the US in 2013, with the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands.
Eliminating super greenhouse gases is essential to climate protection. In the US, HFC super greenhouse gases are the fastest growing climate emissions. HFCs in the US are expected to grow more than 140% by 2020 compared to 4% growth for all US climate emissions.
Dr. Stephen O. Andersen, Co-Chair of the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty’s Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) said, “TEAP estimates that one-third of the most damaging high-GWP greenhouse gases known as HFCs are being used in motor vehicle air conditioning and that motivated industry can make a complete transition to environmentally-superior technology in 7 years or less.”
The newly developed HFO refrigerants have a global warming potential of just 4 compared to over 1,400 for the current HFC refrigerant (HFC-134a). According to Honeywell, GM’s new breakthrough technology remains in the atmosphere for just 11 days. Honeywell calculates that the low global warming potential (GWP) and the short lifetime of its HFO achieve a 99.7 percent improvement in the climate impact over the HFC refrigerant.
Regulations in Europe and California will phase out auto air conditioning refrigerants with GWPs higher than 150 between 2011 and 2017. In the US, the improved environmental performance of the new refrigerant helps car makers achieve the 40 percent improvement in average vehicle fuel economy required by 2016. There is also a pending petition before the EPA to remove HFC-134a from the list of acceptable motor vehicle air conditioning refrigerants.
A proposal to phase down HFCs in the US is part of the proposed climate bill or it could be integrated into oil spill legislation which is at the top of the Senate’s to-do list once the summer recess is over. The proposal is one of the few provisions with bipartisan support.
Proposals also are pending under the Montreal Protocol to completely phase out the use of all high-GWP HFCs. The proposals will be addressed at the treaty’s annual meeting in November. Last year, 41 Parties endorsed a declaration by two small island States to elimate HFCs. This year a number of countries including the United States, Canada and Mexico called for the elimination of high-GWP HFCs.
Phasing out high-GWP HFCs under the Montreal Protocol will provide climate mitigation of 5 to 8 billion tons of CO2-equivalent per year, for a cumulative total of 88 to 145 billion tons of CO2-equivalent by 2050.
Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD) said, “This is the single biggest climate opportunity anywhere in the world this year. An aggressive campaign to promote the use of the new HFO at an affordable price would add momentum to the effort to phase out HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. This would virtually eliminate one of the six greenhouse gases in the Kyoto Protocol basket.”
“GM should be congratulated for leading the way with an innovative refrigerant that can drastically cut the use of super greenhouse gases in the auto air conditioning sector…GM’s announcement sends a powerful signal to other car companies that it’s time to abandon unsustainable super greenhouse gases and move to next generation climate-friendly technology that also delivers high energy efficiency and reliable service,” Zaelke said.
Despite its decades long fall from grace and a near death experience, GM’s technological breakthrough represents a major step forward in the war against climate change.
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