5 December 2011

Chemistry student working for climate-friendly fridges

Climate gasses

First they ate the ozone layer, now they heat the planet. Appliance and automotive refrigerants have lots to answer for. However, if their chemical composition is altered, a new generation of refrigerants can keep your butter cool without heating the planet or depleting ozone. Now, a chemistry student hopes to use her thesis as an opportunity to find useful candidates for climate-friendly refrigerants.

Freja From Østerstrøm, a chemistry student at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Chemistry, has just been awarded a DKK 100,000 grant from Danish hearing aid producers Oticon to support her project, “Atmospheric investigations of greenhouse gases”.

From ozone eaters to climate disrupters

In the mid-1980’s, researchers realised that Freon, a refrigerant, was gobbling up the ultra-violet light filtering ozone layer. Global efforts soon resulted in the banning of Freon and other CFC based refrigerants. A new type of refrigerants, HFC’s, were introduced to replace CFC’s. Though harmless to the ozone layer, HFC’s contribute 1,400 times more to global warming than the CO2 known to every toddler.

New refrigerants: Minimal global warming potential

Through her thesis work, Freja Østerstrøm will investigate a range of refrigerants based on fluorinated compounds. HFE’s, as the compounds are known among chemists, are extremely well-suited for cooling. Furthermore, they have a very low potential for heating of the planet.

"I’ve already investigated a particular compound with 175 times less of an impact on global warming than the refrigerants currently in use."

Freja Østerstrøm, Chemistry student.

"I’ve already investigated a particular compound with 175 times less of an impact on global warming than the HFC's currently in use. Where HFC’s have a global warming potential of around 1.400, the HFE that I investigated had a GWP of just eight. And we know some are even less threatening to the climate," explains Freja Østerstrøm


Research needed on impact on environment and health

Freja Osterstrom stresses that she hopes others will continue work with the compounds she addresses.

"As an atmospheric chemist, I can only investigate how these compounds will behave while airborne. But before they can be used as refrigerants, it is important to investigate their effects upon humans, animals, soil and water:It would be cool if the compounds I explore end up actually being used. Because there is no doubt that HFE’s are more climate-friendly than the compounds used for cooling today,” explains Freja From Østerstrøm.