One of the prices we pay for discovering new, daily life-enhancing technologies, is occasionally inventing something that turns out to be less than ideal from an environmental perspective.

That was true of air conditioning, the refrigerants contained chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. Often known under DuPont's brand name Freon, CFCs were deemed a major contributor to the hole in the ozone layer, and have been phased out over the years.

Volkswagen is now looking to a different refrigerant to use in its cars--carbon dioxide, or CO2.

It's all part of Volkswagen's goal to become the world's most sustainable carmaker by 2018. The Volkswagen Audi Group, VAG, is devoting two thirds of its total investment capital in the development of efficient technologies and vehicles, as well as more sustainable production methods.

While some of that manifests itself in cars like the hundreds-of-MPG VW XL1 revealed at the Geneva Motor Show, simpler technologies like air conditioning are also in the firing line, requiring a re-think to reduce their environmental impact.

It may seem unusual using carbon dioxide as a refrigerant, given the gas has its own unwelcome climate effects when released in large quantities.

However, its impact compared to that of conventional refrigerants is actually much smaller, and can be just as effective at cooling your cabin in a suitably designed air conditioning system.

VW even says its Global Warming Potential value (GWP) is "1"--a fairly meaningless figure until you realize that the European Union limits companies to a GWP of 150.

For further comparison, commonly cited greenhouse gas methane is 72 on the same scale (able to trap 72 times more heat for the same volume, over a period of 20 years), and nitrous oxide, 114.

CO2's use as refrigerant may seem like only a small step in the right direction, but as part of a wider plan to improve cars and production, every small step helps make a larger leap.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.