New self-cooling cans will overheat the world

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The Independent Online
Hundreds of millions of new self-cooling drinks cans are poised to take over the world's larders - and fatally undermine international attempts to control global warming.

The revolutionary can, which automatically chills lukewarm beer and soft drinks at the touch of a button on its base, is expected to be launched this year and quickly sweep the world.

But as consumers cool their drinks they will heat the world up - because each can will release a gas up to 3,400 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, the gas from industry and motor-vehicle exhausts whose growing presence in the atmosphere is the main cause of global warming.

Ministers are so worried about the effects of the cans - 800 million a year are expected to be sold within three years - that they are ready to press for a Europe-wide ban on them.

A self-cooling can has long been the Holy Grail of the drinks industry, because it provides instant refreshment in any conditions and does away with the need for refrigerators or ice.

Mitchell Joseph, head of the Mitchell Company, the Californian family soft-drinks firm which has invented the new can, told the Independent on Sunday last week: "Thousands of patents have been filed but none has been viable for mass manufacture before."

When the button on the base of the "Chill can" is pressed, a cooling gas is released, reducing the drink's temperature by 30F in less than two minutes.

Mr Mitchell says he is being approached by drinks companies from all over the world. A production line is being set up in two halves, in Chicago and the South-east of England.

Scientists and British environment ministers are alarmed, as the cooling gas is HFC 134a, which - over 20 years - is 3,400 times more potent in causing global warming than carbon dioxide. The gas was developed to replace CFCs, which damage the ozone layer, and there are no international controls on its use.

Professor Sir John Houghton, chairman both of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and of the key working group of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, describes the cans as "a very large potential problem".

Michael Meacher, the new Environment minister, said yesterday that the cans were "a new and worrying development that could seriously damage international efforts to combat climate change". He said: "If any manufacturer were to try to market them in the European Union, we would strongly press the EU Commission to use their powers to ban them."

But officials and scientists accept that even if a ban were agreed the cans could still be used in other countries with equally devastating effects.