Published Apr 9, 2019
We are surrounded by refrigerants and air conditioners. Yet these chemicals, used to keep our food cold or to control the climate in our homes, aren’t entirely safe; they have major environmental impacts. Refrigerants, including hydrofluorocarbons (which replaced CFCs and HCFCs as a more environmentally friendly option after the Montreal Protocol), spare the ozone layer, but still warm the atmosphere 1,000 to 9,000 times more than carbon dioxide. Sustainable refrigerant use is the number one solution for greenhouse gas emission reduction according to Project Drawdown, a non-profit organization dedicated to compiling and ranking climate solutions. Although more and more research is being done to reduce HFC’s impacts on the climate, designing environmentally friendly, effective refrigerants remains challenging.
Luckily, a group of professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology are tackling this overwhelming issue. I recently had the chance to sit down and discuss one of the main projects combatting unsustainable refrigerant use: The Interdisciplinary Cooling Energy (ICE) Working Group. With funding from the Global Change Program, ICE works to develop new cooling methods for buildings and automobiles, using a diverse team from Georgia Tech’s Schools of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Public Policy, Materials Science and Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. Here are a few words that lead PI, Dr. Shannon Yee, had to say about this Climate Fellows project:
What is the main goal of your project?
The short term goal is that we’re going after a couple funding proposals. We are working to get people to look at these problems and assemble an interdisciplinary team so we can be very competitive for these funding proposals. The long-term goal of this project is that we’re actually trying to solve the global coolant problem. We’re really committed to being the group to help solve it. That’s the number one problem, and it’s a very heavy engineering lift, so we better start getting people together and have to bring in materials, processes, technology, and policy. None of this will work without policy.
How will you go about implementing your project?
We’re gathering monthly, getting faculty together who are interested in this problem, and starting to draft these ideas. Putting together the concepts behind these [ideas] allows us the time we need to start doing some of the near-term experiments so our proposals are more competitive. We have a hard time getting time to get people together to work on things because everyone is so busy! The nice thing about this program is that we need to learn, and it gives us the opportunity to bring a couple people in from outside in order to learn and say, ‘ok how do we do this? How do we put it all together?’
How does it fit into the larger context?
We’re going after the biggest problem associated with global warming, and it’s ‘how do we address the cooling challenge?’ In context of the other projects that are funded, we are bringing the energy there to try to solve the problem. To do this right, it's going to take time and a lot of people.