Climate-friendly cooling in the pipeline

Air conditioning in buildings and trains could soon get greener, as the Government teams up with business to fund an "eco-air con" R&D scheme.

The new technology would eliminate highly potent greenhouse gases like HFCs from air conditioning in buildings and trains by adapting the chemical-free method now used in aircraft for use on the ground.

“Normal cooling in buildings nowadays is a vapour cycle – similar to your fridge – that includes vapours in a closed loop,” John Clark of Honeywell Aerospace, one of the companies involved, explained.

“If these vapours leak into the environment they’re harmful, whereas if an air cycle leaks it’s only leaking air so there’s no harm involved,” he told edie.

Air conditioning in buildings use refrigerants like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have a global warming impact hundreds or in some cases thousands times higher than carbon dioxide. The high global warming potential means they can do a lot of damage despite the low amounts they are released in.

The two-year, £800,000 project jointly funded by the DTI and business will enable companies working in the built environment, rail and aerospace to share expertise.

The project, christened New Environmental Control System Technology (NECST), also aims to improve the efficiency of air conditioning systems and so cut the amount of energy used for air conditioning – a sector expected to take an ever bigger share of total energy use as the climate warms.

Science minister, Malcolm Wicks, said when launching the project: “Developing this potentially ground-breaking technology could be great news for the environment with huge potential to help cut carbon emissions in this area.”

“Air-conditioning systems in aircraft consume an estimated 4% of total fuel burnt and cooling systems in buildings and trains are big consumers of energy,” said Malcolm Wicks.

“Working with industry to develop the products we’ll need in the future will also help us maintain our position as the world leader in high value technologies”.

Goska Romanowicz

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