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After 15 Year Delay, Green Refrigerator To Arrive in U.S. -- Sort of

By John Uhl

Oct 31, 2008

The green refrigerator, which has been locked in cold storage since 1992, has finally found a manufacturer -- GE -- that is willing to start production for the North American market, but it remains unclear just how soon it will be ready for widespread consumer adoption. The technology is in widespread use in the rest of the world.

GE announced plans this week to release the first climate-friendly refrigerator available to North American households. The refrigerator, which is in development for introduction in 2010, will employ "GreenFreeze" technology to eliminate the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), harmful greenhouse gases with 1,400 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide. Greenpeace helped develop the GreenFreeze technology back in 1992.

GreenFreeze refrigerators use hydrocarbon refrigerants instead of HFCs. Major manufacturers -- Whirlpool, Bosch, Haier, Panasonic, LG, Miele, Electrolux, Siemens -- have used GreenFreeze to manufacture refrigerators embraced by households abroad. Some 300 million of the world's refrigerators now employ the hydrocarbon technology: in Europe, Japan, China, Australia, South America -- everywhere except North America.

So how come it's taken so long to bring GreenFreeze here?

Well, it's never been legal before. When I asked Kert Davies, a Research Director at Greenpeace, why not, he said "too many lawyers per capita" and referred me to a dizzying, Kafkaesque flow chart of the EPA's "Promulgation Process."

The Promulgation Process, a set of guidelines created by the EPA's SNAP (Significant New Alternatives Policy) Program to approve alternatives to the ozone-depleting substances being phased out by the Clean Air Act, is "anything but a snap," says Davies. There has been interest in the technology before, he says, but when those involved saw this chart, they said: why bother? GE is the first manufacturer to be bothering, and the production of its HFC-free refrigerator, which will use isobutane as a refrigerant and cyclopentane as an insulation foam-blowing agent, instead of HFCs, is still contingent upon SNAP's approval of the green substitutes.

Just how much marketing muscle GE is willing to put behind its green fridge remains unclear. During a conference call with Kim Freeman, GE Director of Public Relations, and Kelley Klein, of GE's Counsel-Regulatory division, I was told that widespread incorporation of the technology into the company's line of refrigerators still "depends on a lot of things." According to a press release, GE hopes to include isobutane and cyclopentane in a new Monogram-brand refrigerator scheduled for introduction in early 2010, but when I asked how many refrigerators GE will produce in 2010, and how much they will cost, there was a pause before I heard things like "not sure we have that" and "not that far in the process" as Klein and Freeman conferred and spoke obliquely of a 42-inch model (perhaps the one from their press release, pictured at the top of this article?).

For GreenFreeze technology to make a substantial impact on global warming it will have to be widely adopted. Monogram is GE's line of high-end refrigerators, and though Freeman and Klein spoke of GE's belief in "the potential of these sorts of products" and eagerness to "let know consumers know they have this option," there doesn't seem to be an extensive marketing plan for the fridges.

But if GE succeeds in gaining EPA approval, they will have made it easier for other manufactuers to follow suit. What's more, GE's consumer fridge is really the latest step in a wider Greenpeace-led effort to bring "green" refrigeration to the U.S. This includes a collaboration between Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Unilever to create HFC-free vending machines, display cases, and beverage coolers, and has resulted in the recently-announced plan by Ben & Jerry's to install the country's first HFC-free freezers.

The laborious SNAP process hasn't been the only obstacle to American adoption of GreenFreeze technology. The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, which stipulated the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by the year 2000, wound up encouraging the use of HFCs and HCFCs, which don't deplete the ozone but still contribute to global warming. Convinced that HFCs were a poor substitute, Greenpeace set about developing the use of a hydrocarbon refrigerant -- GreenFreeze -- and made technology available to anyone.

I am thrilled to hear about

I am thrilled to hear about this, I can only hope this refrigerator is also affordable. I am not much of a technological expert but I am making plans for a "greener" life, so I think this refrigerator would fit nicely into my kitchen. Do you have a list of retailers where I can find this piece of appliance? My only local retailer is a division, is there any chance I can find a similar model there?

there don't exist yet. they

there don't exist yet. they are only being provided to the high end comercial market, read, resturant chains and large scale manufacuerers. Give it a minimum of 5 yrs before joe blow can walk into sears or home depot and take one home.

About Time

interesting article. I'm writing a paper on green appliances. Very helpful post thank you.

Reform the US EPA

GE deserves to be congratulated for at least taking an interest in finally embracing the far more environmentally benign hydrocarbon refrigerants, and should receive every encouragement.

Among the most effective short term measures to reduce synthetic greenhouse gas emissions the Obama Administration could take would be to review the EPA's treatment of all natural refrigerants, ammonia, carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons, remove the current regulatory obstacles, and replace them with internationally recognised standards. Making an investment in natural refrigerants education and training programs and creating incentives for a widespread industry transition to genuinely climate friendly refrigerants are further immediately necessary steps to reduce HCFC and HFC use and emissions.

In Australia, the impending inclusion of HFCs in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will see an exponential increase in their cost, and even before the details have been announced (next week), many manufacturers have begun to develop HFC-free equipment, and interest from others is on the rise. I'm sure several of these would be very happy to supply the US market as soon as current regulatory obstacles are dispensed with.

For those with a particular interest in all the reasons fridge manufacturers should have been required to use hydrocarbons years ago, this European report may be of interest -

Of course a far more important source of HFC emissions is the motor vehicle air conditioning sector, in which a fierce debate over the next generation climate friendly refrigerant is currently taking place between CO2 proponents and the fluorolobby's favored HFC-1234yf, but this is probably a topic for a separate post...

I just wonder why anyone would want to use a low Global Warming Potential (GWP) HFC which appears to be expensive, toxic and flammable, when cheap, well performing yet flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants have been established as a safe and suitable solution to the HFC problem through substantial use in existing systems in the US (even if without regulatory approval), Australia, Japan, and many other countries throughout South East Asia, South America and the Middle East?

Brent Hoare

Green Freezer

Just wanted to let GE know I'm a customer if they build this unit I'll buy it. It could be your hybrid vehicle. Hey How about building them in the US. Better yet build them in Louisiana where the state has solar and wind tax incentives. (GE you do build wind turbins right?) and there's lot's of low cost labor and no unions. You could build the plant right on the Mississippi river so shipping would be cheap too.

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