GE Seeks Federal Approval for Greener Refrigerant

GE Seeks Federal Approval for Greener Refrigerant

GE is asking for federal approval to use, in the U.S., a type of refrigerant that has low global warming potential and is widely used in Europe and Asia.

The company has filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency to allow it to use isobutane, a hydrocarbon, in household refrigerators. Hydrocarbons like propane and butane have been used in fridges elsewhere in the world for years as replacements for HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) and HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons).

Although HFCs and HCFCs were originally introduced to replace chemicals that contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer, they are thousands of time more powerful than carbon dioxide in contributing to global warming. Hydrocarbons have no impact on the ozone layer and have a much smaller impact on global warming than HFCs and HCFCs.

GE is asking for approval for isobutane through the EPA's Significant New Alternatives Policy, which evaluates substitutions for ozone-depleting substances.

Ben & Jerry's recently gained permission from the EPA to test up to 2,000 ice cream cases chilled with butane, and Greenpeace, which developed the GreenFreeze technology used in hydrocarbon-based refrigerators, has been pushing companies to bring the fridges to the U.S.

Greenpeace estimates there are 300 million GreenFreeze fridges in the world, sold by companies including Haier, Whirlpool, Bosch, Panasonic, LG, Samsung, Miele, Electrolux and Siemens.

If the EPA approves GE's request, the company plans to use isobutane in a new GE Monogram refrigerator planned to launch in early 2010. GE also plans to use cyclopentane, another hydrocarbon, as the insulation foam-blowing agent in place of an HFC foam blowing agents. The development team behind the fridge also plans to seek ecomagination certification, GE's in-house process for evaluating and labeling energy-efficient products. The company has seen success with its ecomagination line, expecting sales of ecomagination products to reach over $17 billion this year.