Can GM’s HFO Breakthrough Reduce Emissions? $GM

A technological breakthrough from General Motors (GM) couldsignificantly reduce climate change causing emissions. Late in July, GMintroduced what is known as an HFO, a climate-friendly refrigerant toreplace HFCs, the super greenhouse gas currently used in auto airconditioning. GM is the first company in the world to announce thereplacement of HFCs with HFOs.

This refrigerant was produced forGM by Honeywell and is the culmination of more than a decade ofcooperation among private industry, government, and standard-settingorganizations. Use of the new refrigerant will start in the US in 2013,with the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands.

Eliminatingsuper 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 to4% growth for all US climate emissions.

Dr. Stephen O. Andersen,Co-Chair of the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty’s Economic AssessmentPanel (TEAP) said, “TEAP estimates that one-third of the most damaginghigh-GWP greenhouse gases known as HFCs are being used in motor vehicleair conditioning and that motivated industry can make a completetransition to environmentally-superior technology in 7 years or less.”

The newly developed HFO refrigerants have a global warming potential ofjust 4 compared to over 1,400 for the current HFC refrigerant(HFC-134a). According to Honeywell, GM’s new breakthrough technologyremains in the atmosphere for just 11 days. Honeywell calculates thatthe low global warming potential (GWP) and the short lifetime of its HFO achieve a 99.7 percent improvement in the climate impact over the HFCrefrigerant.

Regulations in the Europe and California will phaseout 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 inaverage vehicle fuel economy required by 2016. There is also a pendingpetition before the EPA to remove HFC-134a from the list of acceptablemotor vehicle air conditioning refrigerants.

A proposal to phasedown HFCs in the US is part of the proposed climate bill or it could beintegrated into oil spill legislation which is at the top of theSenate’s to-do list once the recess is over. The proposal is one of thefew provisions with bipartisan support.

Proposals also arepending under the Montreal Protocol to completely phase out the use ofall high-GWP HFCs. The proposals will be addressed at the treaty’sannual meeting in November. Last year, 41 Parties endorsed a declaration by two small island States to elimate HFCs. This year a number ofcountries including the United States, Canada and Mexico called for theelimination of high-GWP HFCs.

Phasing out high-GWP HFCs under the Montreal Protocol will provide climate mitigation of 5 to 8 billiontonnes of CO2-equivalent per year, for a cumulative total of 88 to 145billion tonnes 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 thenew HFO at an affordable price would add momentum to the effort to phase out HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. This would virtually eliminateone of the six greenhouse gases in the Kyoto Protocol basket.”

“GM should be congratulated for leading the way with an innovativerefrigerant that can drastically cut the use of super greenhouse gasesin the auto air conditioning sector…GM’s announcement sends a powerful signal to other car companies that it’s time to abandon unsustainablesuper greenhouse gases and move to next generation climate-friendlytechnology that also delivers high energy efficiency and reliableservice,” Zaelke said.

Despite its decades long fall from graceand a near death experience, GM’s technological breakthrough represents a major step forward in the war against climate change.

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