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Staying Cool, While Saving the World (and Money)- Winners of 2020 SAE Environmental Excellence in Transportation Award


Washington, DC — Engineers and other experts from three continents, who designed new car air conditioning which saves both the climate and money, have been given a prestigious industry award.

An international team from the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD), MAHLE, and TATA Motors Limited (TML), has been awarded the 2020 Environmental Excellence in Transportation (E2T) Award in the “Mobile Energy and Emissions” category by  SAE International (formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers). The team's “Greener Auto Air Conditioner to Save the World” is an innovative motor vehicle air conditioning system that reduces the carbon footprint of mobile air conditioning (MAC), improves fuel efficiency, and saves both automobile manufacturers and owners money on operating costs.  

The award, which showcases the work of individuals and teams who through their ingenuity and dedication have made significant innovations that reduce the environmental impact caused by the transportation industry, recognizes the team's unrelenting drive to be “future ready” by developing a system with an affordable refrigerant that is nearly ten times better for the planet than the main existing one. 

The team members who will be recognized include: Sangeet Kapoor, Prasanna V. Nagarhalli, Maneesh Arora, and Jagvendra Meena from TML (India); Timothy Craig, Lindsey Leitzel, and Dr. Sourav Chowdhury from MAHLE (Germany, U.S.); and Dr. Stephen O. Andersen and Dr. Nancy J. Sherman from IGSD (France, U.S.), with financial support from the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), an initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme. The team also included Melinda Soffer and Kristen N. Taddonio from IGSD, James A. Baker from JAB Consulting and Denise Sioson San Valentin from CCAC. Canada and the USA were among those providing project oversight at CCAC.

The most common refrigerant used in today’s MAC systems is hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-134a (R-134a), which has very high global warming potential (GWP) (GWP100yrs = 1300). Over the last three decades, markets for such MAC systems have grown as a result of increased vehicle sales and demand for comfort, with significant consequences for the climate. 

The use of current high GWP refrigerants in refrigerators and air conditioning systems could contribute up to 0.5°C (0.9o F) of warming by the end of this century, with about 30% of this coming from MACs. The 2016 Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol mandates the gradual global phasedown of HFCs but accelerating it would greatly benefit the climate.

So far, however, adopting low GWP alternatives has remained slow in price-sensitive markets. The “'Greener Auto Air Conditioner to Save the World” project addresses this by using the low GWP, environmentally friendlier, and affordable refrigerant R-152a, which has a GWP of 138, nearly ten times smaller than that of HFC-134a, in a secondary loop configuration. It is the first commercially viable and cost-saving MAC system to use R-152a in an automobile with a front and rear AC system. 

The prototype was successfully developed and validated on a TATA Motors Aria utility vehicle. The test results demonstrated a substantial increase in fuel economy without compromising on occupants' thermal comfort. 

“We are honored to be part of the team that developed this AC system, proving that affordability, efficiency, and environmental protection go hand-in-hand,” said Dr. Stephen O. Andersen, IGSD Director of Research. “This technology is ready to go, using off-the-shelf components,” said Tim Craig, Principal, Melrose Technologies LLC (Mr. Craig was formerly Head of Thermal Pre-Development at MAHLE Behr USA, Inc.). “The climate benefit is clear, and the fuel savings potential is the most compelling project outcome.”

“The adoption of R-152a-based secondary loop MAC (SL-MAC) systems by the auto industry would play a major role in curbing the rise in global temperature. This technology is low cost, and the refrigerant R-152a is patent-free, so SL-MAC systems can be implemented quickly and affordably,” said Kristen Taddonio, Senior Climate and Energy Advisor, IGSD. “This extraordinary team of engineers used a network of global advisors from countries including China, France, Germany, India, Italy, and the United States to bring this project to fruition.” 

“IGSD is proud to partner with TATA, MAHLE, and the CCAC to prove that climate action can be both fast and affordable,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of IGSD. 

SAE International press release, SAE International Announces Winners of Environmental Excellence in Transportation Award, is here.

Contacts: IGSD contact: Kristen Taddonio, Senior Climate & Energy Advisor, ktaddonio@igsd.org; SAE contact: Justin Falce, Strategic Communications Manager, Justin.Falce@sae.org

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