Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cool Paints

Might be the coming thing…I could sure use a five degree drop in my summer car’s interior.

Daniel Weintraub: How cool paints became hot topic in the Capitol
By Daniel Weintraub -
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cool paints, it turns out, are not only those psychedelic colors that hippies used to paint their Volkswagen vans. They are also at the heart of a nasty dispute over whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a serious environmentalist or just wants you to think he is one.

Until a couple of weeks ago, few people in the Capitol had probably ever heard of cool paints. Now they've suddenly become a symbol of Schwarzenegger's commitment to saving the Earth, or lack thereof. How did that happen?

Assembly Bill 32, the global warming law Schwarzenegger signed last year, requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

As a first step, the law required the Air Resources Board to list a set of "early actions" that were considered the low-hanging fruit in the global warming fight. These new rules had to be enforceable by Jan. 1, 2010, just 2 1/2 years from now. That's the blink of an eye in regulatory time.

After reviewing more than 70 suggestions from the public, the air board this spring winnowed the list to three that the board's staff said met the law's definition.

One was a low-carbon fuel standard requiring the oil industry to reduce the carbon emissions from the fuel it sells by 10 percent. Another was a proposal to require car owners to use licensed mechanics to maintain their automobile air conditioning units. A third was a requirement that garbage dump operators do more to capture the methane gas that leaks from their landfills as the trash decomposes.

The air board also looked at 23 other items that the staff said were not quite ready for prime time but might be developed into regulations on the heels of the three "early action" items. One of those was cool paints.

As anyone who has ever left their car in the sun on a hot summer day can tell you, sunlight can heat the surface of a vehicle to a temperature that can burn your hand if you touch it. That heat also bakes the inside of a car and forces up the temperature of the interior. The result: more air conditioning.

Automobile air conditioning puts a strain on the engine, causing it to burn more fuel. And as it burns more fuel, the engine produces more carbon dioxide, a "greenhouse gas" that has been fingered as a major contributor to global warming.

White cars tend to reflect more of the sun's rays than darker cars, and that's why they stay cooler. But scientists have discovered that any color of paint can be formulated to reduce the amount of energy it absorbs. Thus: cool paints.

After the air board's staff recommended only three items for early action, Robert Sawyer, then the board's chairman and a University of California, Berkeley, energy and environmental scientist, asked for more information about vehicle paints. The staff responded with a memo on research suggesting that a 5-degree reduction in vehicle temperature from cool paints could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 2 million metric tons per year. That's the equivalent of shutting down three gas-powered electricity plants, or taking about 440,000 cars off the road.