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EPA Approves Hydrocarbon Refrigerants for Home Appliances

By Paula Melton

This article originally appeared on BuildingGreen.com.

February 28, 2012
The Cleaner Greener Freezer developed by Ben & Jerry's ice cream uses propane refrigerant, which neither depletes ozone nor contributes to global warming. The company petitioned EPA to approve hydrocarbon refrigerants in 2008.
Photo courtesy Ben & Jerry's
The Cleaner Greener Freezer developed by Ben & Jerry's ice cream uses propane refrigerant, which neither depletes ozone nor contributes to global warming. The company petitioned EPA to approve hydrocarbon refrigerants in 2008.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved three hydrocarbon refrigerants for use in household and small commercial refrigerators and freezers: isobutane, propane, and R-441a (a proprietary, blended hydrocarbon also known as HCR-188C). The three chemicals, often referred to as “natural” refrigerants, are alternatives to the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) currently used in virtually all new household refrigerators and freezers in the U.S.

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HFCs have effectively replaced ozone-depleting refrigerants phased out in response to the Montreal Protocol—but although they do not deplete ozone, HFCs have high global warming potential (GWP). Low-GWP household refrigerants have been on regulatory ice in the U.S. for years due to concerns about flammability, but isobutane and propane are both widely used in home appliances in Europe, where fire-safety measures for technicians are now well established.

According to EPA, replacing high-GWP refrigerants would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 600,000 metric tons by 2020, equivalent to emissions associated with the annual electricity use of 75,000 homes. This does not take into account any efficiency gains that the new chemicals may provide; some manufacturers claim dramatic performance improvements from switching to hydro-carbon refrigerants.

Copyright 2012 by BuildingGreen Inc.

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