After some twenty years, American consumers will finally be able to buy the energy efficient climate-friendly refrigerators that Europeans and people all over the world have had in their kitchens for decades.  The Environmental Protection Agency today inked final approval under its Significant New Alternatives Program to legalize the us of simple hydrocarbon gases like propane and isobutane to replace polluting F-gases like HFCs in household refrigerators, freezers and some similar gear like point-of-sale ice cream freezers.

Until now, this refrigerator technology has been illegal in the U.S. while sold worldwide by major appliance manufacturers.  Greenpeace has been pushing to open the North American market since the early 1990s when Greenpeace Germany successfully introduced the Greenfreeze refrigerator into the German market as an alternative to continued use F-gases, specifically HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), which were then promoted as the alternative to CFCs (chlorofuorocarbons). 

Remember CFCs, or Freon?...the gases in spray cans and refrigerators that were discovered to be eating a hole in the ozone layer and then thankfully phased out by the Montreal Protocol starting in the 1980s.  When CFCs went out, EPA approved HFCs as the alternative.  Now we have to fix that problem.

HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), which are thousands of times more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, pound for pound, are responsible for a significant and growing portion of global warming.   Used worldwide for refrigeration, cooling and air conditioning, HFCs are what is in your car AC and in your fridge at home.  These chemicals are built to trap heat, and they do the same thing in the atmosphere.

“Opening the U.S. market is a significant milestone that we’ve been working towards for years,” according to Amy Larkin, Greenpeace Solutions Director,  “Greenpeace has collaborated globally with multinational corporations and governments for two decades to make green refrigeration a reality.  EPA’s new rule will open the North American market and enable the entire industry to transform manufacturing over to the GreenFreeze-style models. Now it’s time to eliminate HFCs from all refrigeration and cooling applications across all industries.”

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

The EPA SNAP announced today was motivated by the efforts of three main applicants:

  • AS Trust & Holdings developed the approved alternative R-441A, a blend of hydrocarbon gases said to increase energy efficiency.
  • General Electric is introducing a household refrigerator to the U.S. market using isobutane gas as the refrigerant.
  • Ben and Jerry’s submitted its application and testing data to deploy propane cooled ice cream freezers like the ones Unilever already uses in Europe and elsewhere.

Multiple natural refrigeration solutions exist today, using hydrocarbons, ammonia and carbon dioxide. Some natural refrigeration options are in widespread use, others nascent in the marketplace. As countries around the world begin to ban HFCs, these newer technologies are expected to become the standard for cooling.

Greenpeace has worked with numerous multinational corporations and small businesses for years to push for the EPA to legalize green refrigeration alternatives in the United States.  Last year, at the urging of Greenpeace, 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.   When implemented, this action will eliminate 2 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next 40 years. 

Although Greenpeace is best known as a fierce opponent to corporate polluters, the organization also works in cooperation with big business when corporate leadership is ready to transform its actions on behalf of the environment. On the problem of HFCs, Greenpeace has collaborated with CocaCola, Unilever (Ben and Jerry’s), PepsiCo and McDonalds in the Refrigerants Naturally project, which won the 2011 Roy Family Environment Award from Harvard’s Kennedy School