During the presidential debates, George W. Bush accused Al Gore of using “fuzzy math” in his accusations. In Texas, there’s some “fuzzy logic” going on.

Wait a minute. “Fuzzy” is not exactly accurate. “Incredibly stupid” is more like it.

In what seems to be a desperate attempt to meet the provisions of the Clean Air Act, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) has proposed that, effective in January 2002, outdoor coils of new central air conditioners and the coils of window units sold in Texas be covered by a catalytic coating. This coating is supposed to help reduce ground-level ozone concentrations, the major component of smog — even though there’s serious questioning that this coating will do what it claims.

Even though the TNRCC heard vocal opposition of this questionable proposal at various state public hearings, who knows if this will remain in the plan it will present to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) next month. If TNRCC doesn’t come up with a plan that the EPA will approve by Dec. 6, the state faces the delay or loss of millions of dollars in highway funds for not following the Clean Air Act.

Because money does talk — even though we’d like to think otherwise — do not be surprised if this strange development becomes a reality. As one member of the Fans and Blowers Section said sarcastically last week at the Air-Conditioning and Refrigera-tion Institute’s (ARI’s) annual meeting in Naples, FL, “You wouldn’t screw up a political solution with facts.”

Ah, that wouldn’t be the American way, now would it.

ABSURD (AND Frightening)

Even though one can laugh at the absurd, ARI and other industry associations are taking this TNRCC proposal very seriously. If the EPA endorses this plan, the fear is that it could spread to other states. ARI believes Texas will become a field test for an unproven product that could result in a/c design changes and price increases of $1,000 each for residential units, several thousands for commercial units.

Rather than achieving a long-term reduction in ozone, ARI believes the slurry may actually reduce a unit’s energy efficiency by up to 5% by causing the fan to work harder. It may also be toxic because it contains manganese dioxide. ARI president Ted Rees asked what the health effects are on factory workers, technicians that service the equipment in the field, and the general public when the slurry flakes off or enters the ground water supply.

“A reduction in efficiency is counterproductive because power plants will need to produce more electricity and that will result in more emissions in a state that already leads the nation in production of carbon dioxide, a gas that scientists say causes global warming,” said Rees.

Even the U.S. Department of Energy has asked the EPA to rethink this craziness. “We believe more data should be obtained on the efficiency impact of this coating before any action requiring its use is taken,” it stated in a letter to the EPA.

The Other Side

New Jersey-based Engelhard Corp., maker of the slurry, claims that its product converts ozone molecules (O3) into oxygen (O2). When applied to heat-exchange surfaces, such as air conditioner condensers and auto radiators, the company says its PremAiræ destroys 70% of the ground-level ozone in the air that passes over these surfaces.

The company also contends the product is not toxic, although it declines to reveal its chemical makeup because it is proprietary. Engelhard also states that the cost to add the catalyst materials for a typical 3-ton a/c unit is less than $50, and that the coating can last for the lifetime of the unit.

The product’s capability was first demonstrated in Engelhard’s research facilities and in field tests involving about 10 residential and commercial a/c units in California and New Jersey over a three- to four-year period. ARI calls the field testing limited. In fact, Dr. David Allen Beckman, professor in chemical engineering and director for the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources at the University of Texas, said that the catalyst coating would have “no or little impact” for cleaning the air. That’s quite a statement, considering he also performs research for the TNRCC.

Does it matter? It appears the TNRCC is desperate. And that means a lot, especially with money waiting in the wings.

Don’t believe it can’t happen. After this past presidential election, we can all agree that anything is possible.

Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446; 248-362-0317 (fax); skaerm@bnp.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 11/20/2000