Old refrigerators line sidewalk in Havana, Cuba - to be replaced by new ones from China. Could these guys be partly responsible for our climate change problem? Image via: Marco Traverso on Flickr. com
The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987, had the very large responsibility of eliminating CFCs and other chemicals that destroy the ozone layer. And it did a pretty good job at it too. Unfortunately, it seems that now those same alternative chemicals that were thought of as solutions are now contributing to global warming. Darn it! More on this story by NPR's All Things Considered after the jump.(Note: While the ozone layer and global warming are two different things, they are related and a worsening hole does make for a worsening of global warming.) So when it was decided that CFCs (or chlorofluorocarbons) were bad for the environment, chemical companies came up with HCFC (or hydrochlorofluorocarbons) which are non-flammable and don't destroy the ozone layer. Yay! Typically these are used in refrigerators as coolants, to replace the CFCs that were also used in older refrigerators as coolants.
Scientists are now calling these HCFCs "super greenhouse gases" (darn it!) because they are highly potent and have been largely ignored up until this point. Why the "super" designation? Because it turns out that the HCFCs are hundreds and even thousands of times better at trapping in heat than the more notorious greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is bad because, while it's not as damaging as other gases, there is a LOT of it out there. HCFC's on the other hand are not used as often, but are much more damaging. Here's the rub: scientists predict a massive increase in HCFC use as the world demands more air conditioning and refrigeration.
Right now, China and India are starting to invest heavily in the production of HCFCs and their increased manufacture could cancel out all of the good that we've accomplished by reducing our emissions. The United States, Mexico and Canada have all agreed that they would sign a treaty to reduce production of HCFCs. Yay?
What Are alternatives to HCFC?
If/when HCFCs are banned, chemical companies will need something else instead. There are a couple of options. Carbon dioxide is used in vending machines, and while also a greenhouse gas, such a minimal amount would be needed that it would be better than the HCFC alternative. Also isobutane or propane are currently used in some refrigerators and would work as an alternative. The problem with isobutane - it burns, meaning that a building with a huge chiller in the basement could go up in smoke if it were ignited. Now it's up to companies to find yet another solution to a problem, without creating another problem. :NPR's All Things Considered
More on HCFCs
Nations Agree to Accelerated "Freeze and Phase Out" of Climate-Damaging Chemicals
Billion-dollar Greenhouse Gas Cutback in China: A Hidden Montreal Protocol Tradeoff
GE Reinvents the Fridge
Compressed Air Dusters Should be Blown Away