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More ways to cut car emissions: reflective glass and paint

Most of the effort to reduce greenhouse gases from cars has focused on improved fuel efficiency, low-carbon fuels, and alternative engine types like hybrids and plug-in vehicles. These approaches will be critical to meeting GHG targets established in California’s landmark global warming solutions law, as well as similar goals proposed in federal legislation.

California is taking this work a step further with a little known initiative called Cool Cars. The program is studying subtle ways to reduce car emissions by rejecting solar heat gain through improved auto glass and paint. In hot weather, these techniques will cause car interiors to heat up less and thus require less air-conditioning. The savings are significant as a car running with the air conditioning off can be 20% more efficient than a car with it on. If the improvements are built into the glass and paint, drivers won’t experience any loss of comfort.

California’s first step is a draft regulation that would require automakers to start using solar management glass for windshields, side and rear windows in the 2012 model year. New glazing technology can bounce solar rays away from the car without causing glare for other drivers on the road, or can absorb energy and release most of it away from the car. State regulators estimate that the new glass could save over 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2020, and over one million metric tons per year by 2040.

The state is moving at a slightly slower pace to require new cars to be painted with new reflective pigments. Chemists at various car-related companies are improving paint formulas so that they can reflect the non-visible solar energy more than standard car paints now in use. Once certain technical issues about paint durability are worked out, California could eventually mandate that such reflective paints be standard on a new generation of cars. In the future, the ideal black paint could perform nearly as well as today’s common white paints.

The state doesn’t want to get into the business of telling citizens what color car they can or can’t buy. Last month, the right-wing blogosphere (Limbaugh, et. al.) erupted when some commentators mistakenly alleged that California was about to ban black cars. Beyond correcting the record here, I am curious to know how consumers would respond to an education campaign to steer car buyers towards lighter paint colors. Do you think that in the interests of fighting climate change people would shift their preferences to lighter hues?

For reference, here’s Dupont’s latest market data on automotive colors:

Full disclosure: I own a black car. Among the things I like about my 17-year-old Honda is that the black color hides dirt. When the air conditioning stopped working ten years ago, I chose not to fix it. Do I get enviro-points for this personal sacrifice?

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