EPA Approves Hydrocarbon Refrigerants for Commercial and Household Use

WASHINGTON, DC, December 14, 2011 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today issued a rule making greener refrigeration gases legal in household refrigerators and some commercial freezers.

The agency added three hydrocarbons as acceptable alternatives in household and small commercial refrigerators and freezers through EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy program, SNAP, which evaluates substitute chemicals and technologies for ozone-depleting substances under the Clean Air Act.

The new rule legalizes the hydrocarbons propane, isobutane, and a chemical known as R-441A as refrigerants.

These newly-approved refrigerants can be used to replace ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)-12 and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC)-22 in household refrigerators, freezers, combination refrigerator-freezers, and commercial stand-alone units.

Refrigerators and freezers in the U.S. also chill with hydrofluorocarbons, HFCs, which do not destroy the ozone layer as do older refrigerants; but they are thousands of times more potent as greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, pound for pound.

The EPA took action after requests from Ben and Jerry’s, General Electric, and the multi-national refrigeration company True Manufacturing, as well as A.S. Trust & Holdings, a family-owned small business based in Hawaii, which holds a patent on R441A.

Ben & Jerry’s, Greenpeace and Unilever unveil the first ice cream freezer using Greenfreeze technology in the United States, September 29, 2008. (Photo by Fast Company)

“Today’s action is a great example of how businesses and EPA can work together to protect our planet and drive innovation,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “This action increases the options for effective, climate-friendly refrigerants in the U.S.”

Twenty years ago, Greenpeace pioneered this technology by developing the “GreenFreeze” hydrocarbon-cooled refrigerator. At that time the chemical industry was promoting HFCs as the “environmental alternative” to CFCs, which were phased out by the Montreal Protocol.

Since 1993, over 600 million Greenfreeze type refrigerators have been sold worldwide by leading major appliance manufacturers, except in the United States and Canadian markets where they were not legal until the EPA’s new rule takes effect.

“After many years of hard work, we congratulate Ben & Jerry’s, AS Trust and Holdings and General Electric for this tremendous accomplishment, and we know other companies are waiting in the wings to use these alternatives” said Kert Davies, Greenpeace USA research director.

“This has the potential to significantly reduce the impact of refrigeration on global warming and opens the door for more solutions,” Davies said. “We overcame a deliberate and protracted campaign of misinformation by companies who preferred the status quo – now Americans can choose green refrigeration for their homes.”

“Opening the U.S. market is a significant milestone that we’ve been working towards for years,” said Amy Larkin, Greenpeace solutions sirector. “Greenpeace has collaborated globally with multinational corporations and governments for two decades to make green refrigeration a reality.”

Last year, at Larkin’s urging, the Consumer Goods Forum, a consortium of 400 consumer brands and retailers, resolved to eliminate HFCs from their refrigeration and cooling systems starting in 2015.

In May 2011, these efforts were recognized with the Roy Award from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for Refrigerants, Naturally!, a public/private partnership founded by Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Unilever in 2004 that includes Greenpeace, the UN Environment Programme and other large companies.

“EPA’s new rule will open the North American market and enable the entire industry to transform manufacturing over to the GreenFreeze-style models,” said Larkin. “Now it’s time to eliminate HFCs from all refrigeration and cooling applications across all industries.”

At least 40 percent of global household refrigerator production now utilizes hydrocarbons instead of HFCs. Companies that manufacture hydrocarbon-cooled refrigerators worldwide include: Bosch, Haier, Panasonic, LG, Miele, Electrolux, Whirlpool, and Siemens.

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