They may be keeping your fridge cold, but HFC-based coolants are keeping the globe very hot, and President Obama is going to do something about it.
President Obama's team is planning to phase out chemicals commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioners, and replace them with more environmentally-friendly chemicals. The administration announced yesterday, on September 16, that some of the country's biggest chemical manufacturers have voluntarily committed to phasing out use of the harmful chemicals like R-134a.
The Obama Administration is making this announcement the week before a major U.N. meeting to discuss climate change and reducing worldwide production of greenhouse gases.
Hydrofluorocarbons, the coolant that is currently most popular in the United States, is a replacement for Freon-based coolants, which were banned in the 1990s because of their contribution to damaging the ozone layer. However, HFC's have negative effects on the environment too. The majority of HFC's don't harm the ozone layer, but the chemical acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the atmosphere. Climate scientists say that some HFC chemicals are 10,000 times worse for the environment as greenhouse gases than the same amount of carbon dioxide.
The Obama administration came up with a plan to phase out HFC production and give manufacturers time to find a replacement. A government official said that the proposed plan would have the same environmental benefit as removing 15 million cars from the road for a decade.
"These are some of the strongest greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," said the official, who wished to remain anonymous.
The Obama administration has tried for the past four years to remove HFC's from the market. However, this new plan seems promising, especially because they got chemical manufacturers and retail companies to voluntarily agree to reduce their HFC production and consumption. Coca-Cola, for one, has pledged to only buy HFC-free coolers in the future. There is already an HFC-free replacement cooling agent, called HFO-1234YF. Other companies on the list include Pepsi, Target, and Kroger. Chemical manufacturers who currenlty make 95 percent of all HFC in the United States also joined the effort.
HFC reduction could be a good thing to focus on while the U.N. comes to a global agreement on limiting carbon dioxide emissions, said Durwood Zaelke, an environmental lawyer. An agreement about carbon dioxide is a long way off, but limiting HFC's could have a significant impact in a short time.
"If we don't deal with the HFC problem now, in the future these gases are going to kill us," Zaelke said. "Fortunately, there are already replacement technologies for most uses, and you can take steps now that are relatively small and cheap."