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The Greening of Cooling

2009 May 26

About the Author: Kristen Taddonio is a program analyst in the EPA Office of Air and Radiation’s Climate Protection Partnerships Division specializing in technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Kristen was recently selected as a finalist for the Partnership for Public Service’s “Call to Service” Medal, honoring outstanding young federal employees.

Have you ever sat in a car with a broken air conditioner on a hot summer day? If so, you might wonder how anyone ever drove a car without it. These days, car A/C is nearly universal – and in rapidly developing countries like India and China, it is among the first luxuries people are buying. The irony to all this is that even though A/C cools us down, it’s warming the planet up. Refrigerants are powerful greenhouse gases. CFC-12, the ozone-depleting refrigerant that used to be used in our cars’ A/C before 1994, was a greenhouse gas 8,500 times more potent than carbon dioxide! Thankfully, our current refrigerant, HFC-134a, is safe for the ozone layer. However, it is still a potent global warming gas: one pound of HFC-134a is equivalent to over 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide. As more and more people buy cars with A/C, the global warming impacts are increasing.

The good news is that alterative refrigerants are available that can drastically reduce the impact our air conditioners have on the environment, and car makers are set to pick a replacement for HFC-134a in the near future. By switching away from HFC-134a in cars, the United States will save the equivalent of 30-50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year! See EPA’s Mobile Air Conditioning website.

However, this good news story could have had a very different ending. We’ve all heard stories about great new technologies that for one reason or the other, just didn’t work out. In each case, there is a show-stopper: either they were too expensive, undercut by competitors, or not marketed well enough. For new refrigerants, the show-stopper was outdated laws that would have forced automakers to stay with the old refrigerant. For the last three years, I’ve been working with an international consortium of environmental, automotive and engineering experts to fix the problem, and I’m happy to say we’ve had great success. Through our outreach and education, we’ve been able to help clear the way for cleaner refrigerants, and a cleaner future.

Until the new refrigerants arrive, I’ll still be using my car A/C. But it feels good to know that in the near future, I will be able to keep my car cool, and the planet too!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. Fernando Martinez permalink
    May 26, 2009

    I read this document, but I have a question. What’s the name of the gas that will replace R134a. When is it estimated to be released to the market?

    Is there a web page to learn about this?


  2. Gina Dennis permalink
    May 26, 2009

    This is a great article. It’s right on target. I am a green building lawyer and a LEED AP; the “greening of cooling” is a major part of buildings too. It’s great to see that you are focusing on this issue within the context of vehicles.

  3. Larry Ihnots permalink
    May 26, 2009

    How can you write an informative article expressing the dangers of refrigerants. only to end it with, “Until the new refrigerants arrive, I’l still be using my car A/C.” ???

  4. Johnny R. permalink
    May 27, 2009

    The growing population will demand more and more of all kinds of A.C. units especially as they help to heat up the planet. The only effective way to bring it under control is to peacefully reduce the human population through family planning clinics in every neighborhood in every community in every nation. All environmental questions are linked.

  5. Moises permalink
    May 27, 2009

    I think and I will continue thinking that the best refrigeration system is the plants, they filter us the light of the sun in summer, and they give us the appropriate humidity, maybe also they have some insects, I before went a lot in bicycle, but this is not a big nuisance. It is difficult to take plants inside an automobile, but it is very easy to plant big leafy trees along a highway, which protect us of the strong winds, and they soften us the humidity the climate and the sun.
    Without plants we will die, the mouse inside a glass urn that is what we are us. I don’t have air conditioned at home, and I don’t usually use him in the car, sometimes use that of the car, but the truth is that the car consumes a lot but with conditioner air, therefore there is but emissions of CO2

  6. loly permalink
    May 31, 2009

    your sooooo right!! Plants really cool us off, I moved to my current house 8 years ago and planted all my (possible) surroundings with trees of all kinds, some of my neighbourhoods maybe hating me because of the leaves on the floor, but this year as all the trees grew enough I was able to not use the house air conditionig in the second story of the house from September until now, while the tempertature here rises to 120º in summer it makes it hard, but I keep trying to turn it off as soon as it cools the walls down, I would like to paint my walls and roof with a refreshing sealant but the economy is not helping, anyway I know we made a huge step, and we keep trying, I hope everybody else makes concious and awareness of this issue too.

  7. Nancy M. permalink
    June 12, 2009

    I agree, plants are a major solution. I have a 2 messy maple trees in my back and front yard and they are worth all the debris they drop (and they drop a lot)! I don’t have air conditioning, only ceiling fans and in New England we do have our share of hot, humid days but it’s fine most of the time. On a hot day I look forward to entering my yard and feeling the coolness of the trees, I swear they make it 15 degrees cooler. I find it incredible that most people won’t consider going without air conditioning in the way that many of us grew up. In many areas it’s unnecessary for most of the time it’s commonly used and people get acclimated to it so they can’t stand the heat. This use of an artificial atmosphere encourages people to build homes where they shouldn’t ever be which leads me to Johnny R.’s point, the population needs to be curbed big time; this is rarely addressed and it truly is the major problem of humanity.

  8. Anonymous permalink
    February 6, 2014

    WHEN PEPLE USE WATTAGE Reducing light bulbs, they fail to realize the CFC or curly bulbs are only efficiency at ambient temperatures, when bulbs get to hot the internal gases in the bulb have tendencies burn out faster shorter life on the bulb, if it is used outside in the cold heating igniter works harder and the luminous is reduce greatly, when they manfacture these the primary ingredient is mercury very tosic element to humans and if it breaks God forbid in some states mandate that they send certified cleanup crews clean up and their goes your savings.. er
    LED’s are far better choice more efficient not as dangerous as the others….

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