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'TOPMACS' – more progress on 'greener' air-conditioning

Once considered a luxury option, air conditioning is becoming more and more common in new cars as a standard feature, but both public authorities and consumers are demanding greater attention to the environmental impact of air conditioning systems, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on fuel consumption.

Cars on a hot motorway © Peter Gutierrez
Staying cool in the car
© Peter Gutierrez

The goal of the EU-funded 'TOPMACS' project has been to develop mobile air conditioning systems (MACS) with reduced impact on the environment. "The project is now at a very important and crucial point," says TOPMACS coordinator Stefano Mola of Italy's Centro Ricerche Fiat. "We are currently setting up two onboard prototypes, one for cars and another one for trucks. It is the first time in Europe that an air conditioning 'sorption' system has been installed on a vehicle."

Sorption systems, explains Mola, are powered by waste heat, and could provide a solution for lowering the environmental impact of mobile air conditioning systems.

"The simple fact that we've been able to set up these prototypes means the project is already a success," he says. "But we have also demonstrated a significant increase in cooling power density with respect to state of the art systems."

Partnership of success

The TOPMACS project has brought together a wide-ranging group of partners from Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and the UK. Mola says the project has been crucial for his company and everyone involved.

"I think the main benefit for all of us will come from the close and open co-operation we've established. This has allowed all the partners to be involved in all phases of the work. Our research institution partners have understood the constraints of the automotive industry, while the end users have understood the features and market potential of the technology."

"Our working relationship with European authorities, especially the European Commission, has also been positive," he says. "Our discussions with the EU commissioner have always been very important, allowing us to move from clear policy goals towards real technical solutions."

No stopping now

"We are now waiting for the results of tests being carried out on our prototypes," says Mola, "before we can quantify the actual environmental benefits, and we will need to do further work before being able to consider industrial-scale production, but we do expect to see benefits in terms of reduced CO 2 emissions due to air conditioning systems, and this will ultimately mean a cleaner environment for citizens and possibly a competitive edge for our European car-making industry."

Mola says TOPMACS will also achieve a significant downsizing of the resulting technologies, opening the way to other potential applications such as smaller tri-generation systems.