The refrigerant and air conditioning industry isn’t going away. In fact, just the opposite is happening. As more and more of the world becomes wealthier and people’s lives improve the amount of air conditioners, refrigerators, and freezers will grow. One statistic I read said that India is expected to purchase over one billion air conditioners over the next decade. That number is absolutely insane to think about. While all of these new air conditioners provide us with great comfort, they also have a negative effect on the environment.
Any of you who have been in the industry for just a short while know just what kind of effects refrigerant can have on the Earth. In the 1980’s the Montreal Protocol was introduced in an effort to phase down Ozone depleting CFC and HCFC refrigerants such as R-12, R-22, and R-502. Today the Ozone is recovering and things are beginning to look brighter. If this hadn’t have happened the amount of CFCs and HCFCs in the world would only have grown and the damage to the Ozone could have been irreversible.
New concern after Ozone Layer
While the Ozone is doing better now the next big concern is the extremely high Global Warming Potential, or GWP, of HFC refrigerants such as R-404A, R-134a, and R-410A. Each of these refrigerants comes with a high GWP and when one of these refrigerants is vented or leaked into the atmosphere they contribute and accelerate Global Warming. There have been various efforts to move away from these high GWP refrigerants. Over the past few years we have seen the new HFO class of refrigerants be introduced. We have seen various recipes of HFCs come to market all offering lower GWP alternatives. Along with that many businesses have opted for the classic refrigerants such as Ammonia, Carbon Dioxide, or Hydrocarbons. Whatever refrigerant is chosen, the end goal is the same: Reduce Global Warming Potential of refrigerants and do it as soon as possible.
The Global Warming of refrigerants is already a problem and with exponential growth predicted in the future decades it is only going to grow. The question now though is what can we do change direction? How can we provide air conditioning and refrigeration to the world without destroying the world in the process?
The Global Cooling Prize
In an effort to answer this question it was announced this month that Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines/Records, will be offering a three million dollar prize to an individual or company that invents a better more climate friendly residential air conditioner. This initiative known as the ‘Global Cooling Prize,’ is aimed at incentivizing people from around the globe and get everyone’s gears turning.
The goal is have a cooling technology that has five times less impact then current air conditioning technology. This impact can be a mix of GWP and kilowatts used. So, if you shrink the GWP by a significant amount and the power consumption only slightly you’ll still be able to qualify. There’s one more catch though folks, the new air conditioner can’t be more then twice as expensive as the existing ones on the market place. After all, you don’t want to price it out of reach of the average consumer.
As I was reading all of this criteria I thought to myself… well this will be easy. Let’s just use Ammonia! Haha. There’s no GWP to worry about here and no Ozone depletion either. Top it all off, Ammonia is an extremely efficient refrigerant so your power consumption would go down as well. Something told me that it wasn’t going to be that easy and after I read a bit more I saw a some fine print about refrigerant toxicity being a consideration as well. There’s goes my three million dollars!
There are many conditions and considerations that need to be taken into account for before a submission can be entered for this contest. You can read all about the specifics and qualifications to enter by clicking here. One example that the GlobalCoolingPrize site uses is R-290 or Carbon Dioxide. See below excerpt:
A solution that uses R290 refrigerant (GWP 3) achieves a 99.9% reduction from the baseline GWP. If it also consumes 4x less electricity than the baseline, it achieves a 75% reduction from the baseline electricity. This when combined together using the assigned 80%-20% electricity refrigerant weighting would result in combined impact of 80% reduction from the baseline i.e. it achieves a 5X climate impact. Therefore, this proposed solution will receive 100 points. Similarly, if the proposed solution is powered by solar PV mounted on it without exceeding the overall unit volumetric sizing criteria and uses zero GWP, it achieves a combined impact of 100% from the baseline and will receive 200 points.
This isn’t going to be an easy contest by any means folks, but the real hope here is to revolutionize the air conditioning industry. Don’t let the fact that refrigerant giants like Chemours and Honeywell haven’t come up with a solution already deter you. A lot of the times these giant companies get their blinders on and only see tunnel vision. Some of the most interesting innovations come from outside of the box, or even outside the company thinking.
One great example of this is what Daimler did when the European Union was phasing down R-134a. All the EU said was that refrigerants over XYZ Global Warming Potential would no longer be allowed. So, what did everyone do? They all switched to the new HFO 1234yf. YF was the easy solution and most everyone took the easy route. Not Daimler though. No, they went their own way and pioneered the way on using R-744, Carbon Dioxide, for vehicle air conditioning.
My point is folks that with enough dedication and creativity we very well may see a solution for this and that is exactly what this contest hopes to inspire. I know I could do a lot with three million dollars. Now I just need to think of an idea…