Ben & Jerry's Trials Cleaner Freezers

Ben & Jerry's Trials Cleaner Freezers

Ben & Jerry's has received federal permission to install the first hydrocarbon-based freezers in the United States. The freezers use propane, a hydrocarbon, as a refrigerant instead of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Hydrocarbon-based freezers are used widely around the world, especially in Europe, but are currently barred in the United States. The EPA is looking into the freezers through its evaluation program for alternatives to ozone-depleting chemicals. In the meantime, Ben & Jerry's has been given approval to test up to 2,000 freezers in the coming years.

The company is first rolling out about 50 of the freezers around the Boston, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. areas. Ben & Jerry's worked on the project with Greenpeace, which has been pushing hydrocarbon freezers as a replacement for HFC-based freezers since 1992. HFCs were introduced years ago to replace ozone-depleting chlorfluorocarbons. While HFCs do not contribute to ozone depletion, they also have high global warming potential.

In recognizing that, Greenpeace developed GreenFreeze technology, using hydrocarbons that have no impact on the ozone and very low global warming potential, in place of HFCs. There are now more than 300 million GreenFreeze refrigerators in the world, according to Greenpeace. The freezers are also an estimated 10-15 percent more energy efficient than HFC freezers.

Part of the reason hydrocarbon-based freezers are not in place in the U.S. is that they contain flammable hydrocarbons like butane or propane. To receive permission to test the freezers, Ben & Jerry's had them approved by product safety certification organization Underwriters Laboratories

Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry's, operates 270,000 hydrocarbon freezer cabinets in Europe, Asia and Latin America, and says it has no recorded incidents of accidents caused by the freezers.

If the EPA allows hydrocarbon freezers to be introduced to the U.S. marketplace, Ben & Jerry's estimates it could convert, though its wear and tear replacement program, its more than 100,000 ice cream cabinets in eight to 10 years.