Hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants are a “natural” cooler widely used in domestic and commercial refrigerators all over the world, except in the U.S. and Canada. HC refrigerants produce less greenhouse gasses than hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) technology, but they aren’t approved for the U.S. market – yet. Now Greenfreeze, the Greenpeace-developed HC refrigerant, is poised to enter the U.S. thanks to a boost from an unlikely pair of companies, Ben & Jerry and General Electric. It’s not a moment too soon: a new study has fingered HFC refrigerants and other so-called F-gasses as a rapidly growing source of emissions responsible for global warming.
Oh, SNAP – What’s Holding Up Greenfreeze?
SNAP is the U.S. EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy Program, which regulates substitutes for CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons) and other ozone-depleting substances that were phased out under the Clean Air Act. So far, Greenfreeze and other HC-based refrigerants have not made the grade. A big part of the problem is the high risk of flammability in two HC substitutes, isobutane (think cigarette lighters) and propane (think barbecue grills).
Ben & Jerry Give Greenfreeze a Try
Last fall, green-hearted Ben & Jerry successfully petitioned the EPA to allow a test run of Greenfreeze regrigerators at stores in Washington, DC and Boston. There are also several in Vermont (you can find them through the Greenfreeze locator).
General Electric Gets into the HC Act
Around the same time, General Electric announced that it had applied to the U.S. EPA for approval of isobutane as the refrigerant for its new Monogram brand refrigerators. GE expects to roll Monogram out in the U.S. in 2010, so let’s hope that its optimism is rewarded with a thumbs-up from the EPA. Given the “Kafkaesque” SNAP process, that could take a while.
Why Shift from HFC’s to HC’s?
When CFC’s were being phased out, HFC’s were the first-generation answer to the problem of ozone depletion. However, Greenpeace points out that HFC’s are a substantial and growing problem in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, as described by a new study of HFC’s published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The rapid adoption of HFC refrigerators in Asian markets is partly responsible for the uptick; so is the reluctance of the U.S. and Canada to shift away from HFC technology.
The Final Nail in the Coffin for HFC’s
GE is just one global company putting its toe in the HC waters. Refrigerants Naturally is a corporate initiative to reduce the use of HFC’s and other “F-gasses,” supported by such luminaries as IKEA, Pepsico, McDonald’s, Unilever, Carlsberg, and Coca-Cola as well as Greenpeace and the United Nations Environmental Programme. With Pepsico and Coca-Cola on the same page, it seems like the final curtain is ready to close on HFC’s.
h/t to Matthew Traum.
Image: edcrowle on flickr.com.
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