Greener Vehicle A/C to Cool Drivers with Minimal Planetary ImpactBecoming an industry forerunner generally doesn’t happen without anticipating and acting on distinctive social trends through a cleverly designed product or service, so in that regard, Toyota certainly deserves a hearty round of applause for the launch of its now 10-year-old eco-success story, the Prius. The full hybrid electric mid-size vehicle — with a moniker derived from the Latin phrase meaning “to go before” — was unarguably on the green scene well before reusable beverage bottles and upcycled duds were even a glimmer in the majority of the population’s eyes. From Toyota’s first 41-mile-per-gallon model to its current incarnation boasting a thoroughly respectable 50 mpg, the Prius has become the poster child for what today’s green automobile should be. While countless competitors continually boast about their latest, greatest eco-features, such as the 2011 Ford Explorer’s polyurethane foam seat cushions made with 40% soy oil or Hyundai’s QuarmaQ concept vehicle with an exterior composed solely of recycled PET plastic bottles, very few can actually compete with the Prius in terms of all-out measurable, proven, reliable eco-efficiency. Of course, one of the basic systems that we all expect our vehicles to be outfitted with — a simple air-conditioning unit — doesn’t exactly help Mother Nature or our terrestrial desire for better mileage. With global-warming-induced temperatures continually on the rise, it’s unlikely that many of us will willingly pass on the immediate relief that our on-the-go cooling units provide us with (even when we live an über-green lifestyle). While the Enhanced Protective Glass Automotive Association claims today’s electric vehicles could enjoy a 30% improvement in range along with a notable reduction in air-conditioning needs if they were simply fitted with solar control glass, that doesn’t solve the conundrum of what to do about all of the other non-EVs on the roads that are equipped with inefficient A/C units. That is why the news of General Motors’ greener air-conditioning refrigerant is so promising. Now, there isn’t much about an A/C unit that is legitimately good for the planet. They certainly provide immediate gratification for us when the mercury rises, but that relief is achieved via Freon or a similar type of chlorofluorocarbon compound that lasts as long as 13 years in the atmosphere, depleting the ozone layer while accelerating the global warming effect. In contrast, the new EPA-approved green refrigerant kid on the block — HFO-1234yf, or 2,3,3,3-Tetrafluoropropene — lasts just 11 days in the atmosphere, which in layman’s terms is roughly 400 times shorter than conventional versions. Additionally, it reduces “heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere by more than 99 percent,” so in the event that it escapes from car air-conditioning units (which is entirely common due to the utilization of flexible tubing and an open drive compressor), it won’t persist for very long. Fans of General Motors’ line of vehicles, specifically 2013 Cadillac, GMC, Chevrolet and Buick models, will enjoy the new, eco-friendly coolant, which is being manufactured by Honeywell, as will those in Europe who favor Daimler Mercedes Benz. While an EPA representative claims that HFO-1234yf “helps fight climate change and ozone depletion,” we’re still talking about a chemical, and as a general rule, they typically offer no panacea to our ailing environment. Nevertheless, it appears that this chemical refrigerant will enable us to at least take one step closer to a greener tomorrow.