The US Environmental Protection Agency has finally lifted its restriction on the use of certain hydrocarbons as refrigerants in household and small commercial refrigerators and freezers. In GallonDaily’s opinion this approval for use of hydrocarbon refrigerants is long overdue. Hydrocarbon refrigerants for use in domestic refrigerators were popularized by Greenpeace in the former East Germany in the early 1990’s and have been available in Europe ever since. Hydrocarbon refrigerants can achieve similar energy efficiency to hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants without the huge impact on climate change that is characteristic of HFCs. HFC-134a, the most common HFC refrigerant in use today, has a global warming potential of 3,830 times that of carbon dioxide and an atmospheric lifetime of 14 years; HFC-23 has a global warming potential of 12,000 times that of carbon dioxide and an atmospheric lifetime of 270 years. They do not deplete the ozone layer, which is why they have been widely adopted as alternatives to ozone depleting CFCs and HCFCs.
In Canada there is no restriction on sale and use of equipment with hydrocarbon refrigerants but both the Canadian Standards Association and The Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) offer little encouragement for their use. HRAI states that “The use of a flammable refrigerant in a home or building could create a serious fire and explosion risk” while CSA has special rules for systems containing hydrocarbon refrigerants.
No major manufacturers of North American household appliances have yet announced their intention to bring hydrocarbon-based refrigerators to the domestic market. Given the very high greenhouse gas potential from existing HFC refrigerants, one can only hope that the EPA announcement encourages some in the industry to wake up.
The Greenpeace take on ‘Greenfreeze” hydrocarbon technology is at http://archive.greenpeace.org/ozone/greenfreeze/