Frank Maslen, manager of the engineering side of the project to develop an alternative to ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), said: 'We have gone beyond the glorified mechanic image, but there is still very little understanding of what engineers do.'
The prize, which aims to raise the status of engineering by recognising its most innovative work, was awarded to ICI yesterday at the Science Museum in London. The lion's share of the pounds 50,000 will be used to fund engineering education projects for sixth-form pupils. The four award-winning ICI employees will not gain personally from the prize.
ICI won the award for the development of a process to produce KLEA 134a, an alternative to CFCs for use in domestic and retail refrigeration and air conditioning for factories, offices and cars. The alternative contains no chlorine, so has no detrimental effect on the ozone layer. It is produced by a chemical process that reuses much of its own waste. This makes it cost effective, energy efficient and environmentally clean, the company claims.
ICI spent more than pounds 250m developing KLEA 134a, with its first commercial plant opening in 1990 in Runcorn.
The award drew criticism yesterday from environmental groups who say that KLEA 134a may be ozone- friendly, but it is still a danger to the environment. In June, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld four out of five complaints by Greenpeace over ICI's advertisements.
ICI acknowledges that KLEA 134a is a 'greenhouse gas' which contributes to global warming, but the ASA upheld Green peace's challenge to the company's claim that its product would never contribute more than 1 per cent of the greenhouse effect. Nevertheless, it supported ICI's claim that the direct impact of KLEA 134a on global warming was 90 per cent less than that of the CFCs it replaces.
The ASA also ruled that ICI's claim that 'KLEA 134a is at least as energy-efficient as any other alternative likely to be commercially available in the foreseeable future' was insufficiently supported by independent evidence.