There’s a wise old saying that you should never, in polite company, discuss religion or politics. Should refrigeration be added to the list?

I’m kidding of course, but at a recent refrigeration conference a guest speaker, Ron Elving, of National Public Radio News, gave a presentation about everything that has transpired in Washington in the first eight months of the Trump administration. Elving noted that every president experiences a learning curve in what is certainly a very difficult job, but Trump’s learning curve has been, as Elving tactfully put it, more “forward-facing” than that of many other presidents. In other words, Trump’s brashness and unwillingness to follow typical political norms has engendered strong reactions from both supporters and detractors alike.

“The United States has become intensely politically polarized,” Elving noted. “You don’t have to be Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to think things used to be different.”

I sat there thinking about how the characters change, but the basic background story remains the same: our polarization is simply an ongoing case of people having different visions of which direction is best for the country.

It occurred that the refrigeration industry is also one of differing visions. Just a few days before Elving’s presentation, Chemours and Honeywell – both of which have invested heavily in hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) technology -- filed a petition to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for a rehearing of its recent ruling in the case of Mexichem Fluor Inc. vs. the Environmental Protection Agency. That ruling, in which the court said the EPA cannot ban HFCs under Section 612 of the Clean Air Act, put a large hurdle in the path of EPA’s efforts to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Meanwhile, other presentations at the conference covered the increasing refrigeration roles of hydrocarbons (HCs) such as propane, and naturals such as carbon dioxide and ammonia. In other words, many different visions of which direction is best for refrigeration were on display.

Will peaceful (albeit competitive) coexistence be possible for the refrigeration industry, or is it doomed to a deep polarization like we are seeing in politics? Time will tell, but I’m betting on coexistence. As I exited one session I asked a refrigerants marketing manager from a major manufacturer if he thought the future would be HFCs, HFOs, HCs, or naturals. His reply: “Yes.” And of course he’s right: the future holds many opportunities depending on the type of equipment and the application. HFC systems will continue to be in use for many years to come, and among all the other emerging options (which in some cases are emerging and yet old-school) there is no one silver bullet that will meet everyone’s refrigeration needs. So the fight will be for markets and market share, and that’s certainly nothing new for the refrigeration industry.

Still, when it comes time for Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s house I’m sure we’ll all do our best to avoid the taboo subjects of religion and politics – and I’ll also steer the conversation away from refrigeration , just in case.

Publication date: 10/4/2017

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