Restrictive safety standards in the U.S. and elsewhere have limited production of propane based air conditioners to just 1 percent of total capacity from 18 assembly lines across China that were retooled to use propane with money from the United Nations. Credit: Feng Hao WUHU, China—Air conditioners sped down the assembly line at the Midea appliance factory on a recent Saturday afternoon, as pop music blared over the din of fans and motors. The workers, mostly 20-somethings in crisp blue uniforms, were working quickly and on track to meet their daily target of 3,300 units. Stretching the length of a football field, the assembly line in Wuhu was retooled in 2016 to produce hundreds of thousands of climate-friendly air conditioners per year, funded with money from the United Nations. The goal was to help reduce a class of key climate super-pollutants. Air conditioners now use fluorinated chemical refrigerants. While each air conditioner contains only a small amount of refrigerant, the chemicals eventually make their way into the atmosphere, as the devices slowly leak or are destroyed at the end of their useful life. Those emissions add up and wreak havoc. As greenhouse gases they are hundreds to thousands of […]


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