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'B-COOL' project developing eco-friendly car air conditioning

The EU-funded B-COOL project, set to end in 2008, has been developing a new, high-efficiency, low-cost air-conditioning system for small, A and B segment cars, using CO2 as a refrigerant.

Cars on a hot motorway © Peter Gutierrez
Beating the summer heat
with B-COOL
© Peter Gutierrez

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), once the replacement of choice for ozone-harmful chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigeration and air conditioning systems, have no known effects on the ozone layer, but do contribute to global warming. Today, HFCs are a specific target of the Kyoto Protocol.

Under the European Union's Sixth Research Framework Programme, a specific call for proposals was published on “…highly efficient air conditioning systems with near zero greenhouse gas emissions and elimination of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) …”

Answering the call

"We've managed to make some important advances in the domain of the mobile air conditioning systems," says B-COOL project coordinator Carloandrea Malvicino of Italy's Centro Ricerche Fiat. "We've developed new testing procedures to assess fuel consumption and thermal performance of CO 2 air conditioning technologies, and we've created and tested two vehicle demonstrators using a Fiat Panda and a Ford Ka."

The B-COOL project's new cooling system is based on the use of R744 (liquid CO 2) as a working fluid. R744's physical properties, which include a high volumetric cooling capacity, make it very favourable for cooling, refrigeration, and heating applications.

B-COOL partners say the use of these systems in lower segment cars has represented a real bottleneck due to cost and energy consumption constraints. Simply stated, today's state-of-the-art R744 systems are just too expensive and sophisticated for lower-priced cars and light commercial vehicles.

Breakthrough

"B-COOL gathered European experts and engineers, creating a partnership that produced important scientific and technical results," says Malvicino. "The relationship among partners has been very fruitfully and the project has generated opportunities for further co-operation. The European Commission was also a key player, delivering effective support to the consortium that allowed us to complete the research programme.

"Ultimately, this has been a great opportunity to increase our know-how in mobile air conditioning systems, enabling us to focus our resources on a common objective – the realisation of two different B-class vehicles with R744 air conditioning."

Malvicino says because the new B-COOL system is more cost effective and energy efficient, it could speed up HFC replacement in the automotive sector.

Overall, B-COOL has made some important contributions to the objectives of the Kyoto protocol:

  • Using a high efficiency R744 system to reduce CO 2 emissions
  • Completely eliminating the need for CFC, HCFC and HFC refrigerants
  • Making available a low-cost system for small and medium-sized cars (70% of the EU market).

And by making possible the rapid diffusion of the new system in Europe, B-COOL improves the competitiveness of EU carmakers.

Satisfying conclusion

Malvicino says the project, set to end in November 2008, has been a success. "B-COOL increased our general knowledge of the environmental impact of mobile air conditioning and has contributed to the development of a new generation of systems.

"Small cars represent a very important part of the European passenger car market, and the presence of the B-COOL project at relevant international events, including SAE and International Energy Agency events, and the TRA 2008 conference in Slovenia, has helped to strengthen Europe's position in the mobile air conditioning sector."

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