Pro Climate: efficient car air-conditioning systems with natural refrigerants

By team, Nov 03, 2010, 17:32 4 minute reading

The German environmental group DUH and the German automobile club VCD have announced today the start of a new campaign to alert consumers about the greenhouse gas potential of chemical refrigerants in car air-conditioning systems and the dangerous substitute HFC1234yf that the automobile industry plans on using in reaction to the MAC Directive entering into force in January 2011. The campaign is partially funded via the LIFE+ programme by the European Union.

The German environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and the German green automobile club VCD strive to limit the harmful climate impact caused by mobile air-conditioning (MAC) systems by starting the large scale information campaign “Pro Climate: efficient car air-conditioning systems with natural refrigerants”.

Growing concern about climate impact of MACs

The chemical refrigerant currently used in MAC systems R134a is a greenhouse gas 1,430 times more potent than CO2. Every year, around 10% of the refrigerant are vented into the atmosphere either through leakages, accidents or improper recycling of old cars. According to calculations by the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA), this diffuse venting translates into 7g of CO2 per driven kilometer. In 2006 alone, almost 2,300 tonnes of R134a have been vented into the atmosphere. This equals the climate impact of 3 million tonnes CO2 or the annual emissions of 1.7 million small cars with an average mileage of 15,000 km.

The problem grows more and more acute as basically all new cars in the EU are now equipped with air-conditioning systems. In 2008, this summed up to 13 million units. According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in 5 years from now, almost one billion cars worldwide will be air-conditioned. Based on today's refrigerant emission figures, one can assume that by 2015 the cumulative greenhouse gas effect of these air-conditioning systems will sum up to 270 million tonnes CO2 which equals the total current greenhouse gas emissions of Austria and the Czech Republic combined.

Car makers undermining EU law

“Seen these facts, it is absolutely incomprehensible how the automotive industry can undermine applicable European law. From 2011, the air-conditioning units of new car models are not allowed to be filled with the currently used chemical refrigerant R134a. A survey carried out by DUH has however shown that not one single car is scheduled to be rolled out with an environmentally friendly air-conditioning system. The car industry uses cheap tricks for further selling cars with the climate damaging refrigerants inside for years to come. And on top of that, they plan on introducing later on a new, again chemical refrigerant that transforms into highly toxic trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) when burning”, says DUH president Jürgen Resch.

The European law Mr. Resch is referring to, is the Directive on emissions from air-conditioning systems in motor vehicles (2006/40/EC) - also known as the MAC Directive - which prescribes the use of a refrigerant having a global warming potential below 150 in all new car model types from January 2011 on, and in all new cars from 2017.

“To switch from the potent greenhouse gas R134a to [HFO1234yf] a substance that poses a direct health risk, is taking a step out of the frying pan into the fire”, Resch continues. He warns vividly against the introduction of this toxic and flammable new chemical, especially as climate friendly, safe and highly efficient alternatives are available in form of R744 air-conditioning units - systems using CO2 as refrigerant.

The campaign

“Pro Climate: efficient car air-conditioning systems with natural refrigerants” will run three years and will cost an estimated €800,000, half of which are financed by the EU LIFE+ programme that supports projects in the field of environmental protection.

The campaign kicks off almost simultaneously to the entering into force of the MAC Directive and will inform consumers and car buyers about the climate impact of mobile air-conditioning based on the used refrigerant and the degree of system efficiency as well as the increase in fuel consumption related to the use of air-conditioning in cars.

“Auxiliary systems such as the car's air-conditioning unit are so far not taken into account in the standard tests to determine the fuel consumption of new cars. This is cheating the consumer”, says Michael Müller-Görnert, traffic expert at VCD. He suggests that the cars' air-conditioning systems have to be integrated in future testing schemes to determine the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of cars.

“The impact of air-conditioning systems has to be taken into account in the revision of relevant EU legislation”, which however is only scheduled in eight years from now. But efforts are put into developing a European energy label for mobile air-conditioning systems to achieve higher efficiency of the same.

EU LIFE+ Programme

The EU LIFE+ Programme 2007-2013 is a dedicated EU funding instrument supporting environmental and nature conservation projects throughout the EU, as well as in some candidate, acceding and neighbouring countries. It succeeds the EU LIFE Programme. which, since 1992, has co-financed some 3115 projects, contributing approximately €2 billion to the protection of the environment.


By team (@r744)

Nov 03, 2010, 17:32

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