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GREENFREEZE:
A REVOLUTION IN
DOMESTIC REFRIGERATION

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) damage the earth's protective ozone layer. Governments, industry and environmental groups agree that CFC production must be halted. The point of contention surrounding CFC phase-out is which alternative substances and technologies are the best substitutes for CFCs and the goods and services they provide.

The chemical industry, led by such giants as Du Pont, ICI and Atochem, is striving to maintain the monopoly over the global market that it had enjoyed with CFCs during the past six decades.

HCFCs and HFCs: Obsolete Technologies in the Making

The industry promotes large scale production of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Industry acknowledges that HCFCs will continue to destroy the ozone layer, albeit somewhat less than CFCs, and that both HCFCs and HFCs are potent global warming gases. Industry also refers to HCFCs and HFCs as "transitional substances", meaning that they will have to be replaced by environmentally more acceptable substances sometime in the not-too-distant future. Nevertheless, the chemical corporations expend huge amounts of money around the world, promoting the false-perception that at the present time only their products are available as viable alternatives to CFCs.

In actuality, the chemical industry's two step approach for phasing out CFCs makes no sense environmentally or economically. HCFCs and HFCs hurt the environment, they are costly, and companies that employ them today will have to suffer the costs of switching yet again to environmentally safer substances and technologies within the next few decades, if not sooner.

HCFC-141b, the preferred alternative to CFC-11 for insulation foam blowing in the U.S., is an ozone destroyer, with a short term ozone depleting potential (ODP) of 0.11, one of the highest among HCFCs. HCFC-141b also has a global warming potential (GWP) 1800 times of CO2 (20 year time scale). For this reason, HCFC-141b is scheduled to be phased out in the United States by the year 2004, under the Clean Air Act.

The Global Warming Potential (GWP) of HFC-134a, the preferred alternative to CFC-12 for refrigerant in the U.S., is estimated to be 3,200 times that of carbon dioxide (over a time span of 20 years). The global warming impact of the worldwide annual production of at least 200,000 tones of R134a equals roughly the CO2 emissions of an industrialized nation the size of France or the UK. In the longer term, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that HFC emissions, if unregulated, could reach over thirteen times this level or 2,764,000 tones per year in the next century. Consequently, HFC-134a is coming under increased international scrutiny, with pressures beginning to build up for their controls under the Climate Convention.

This two-step approach of the chemical industry is driven by a wish to turn a profit on the hundreds of millions of dollars it had invested in the wrong technology. On December 1, the London Financial Times reported that Du Pont had invested $450 million in HCFC and HFC production, and expects to hit the $1 billion mark in 1995, with an expected recovery period for the investment of no less than ten years. The company claims to require another ten to twenty years of HCFC and HFC production to profit above and beyond recouping their investment.

The world has limited resources, and as the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) 1992 Technology and Economic Assessment Panel stated, "the development of technologies which do not use either controlled or transitional substances [e.g. hydrocarbons] can be inhibited because the prospect of technology using transitional substances [e.g. HCFCs and HFCs] discourages investment in technology that would only be profitable if transitional substances were not acceptable." Simply stated, this means that the production and promotion of HCFCs and HFCs hinders the transition to safer alternatives.

Developing countries, especially, cannot afford the two-step approach for phasing-out CFCs, as proposed by the chemical industry. The chemical giants conduct extensive lobbying campaigns in developing countries, and within the Montreal Protocol to secure their markets for their obsolete technologies.

Greenpeace is campaigning to counter the misinformation of the chemical industry, and to inform developing countries about the availability and the merits of hydrocarbon based 'Greenfreeze' technology. At the same time, Greenpeace is advocating that the Multilateral Fund of the Montreal Protocol, which was set up to help developing countries phase-out of CFCs, should not be wasted on 'transitional' HCFC and HFC technologies. Instead, it should only be used to promote technologies that are safe for the ozone, do not contribute significantly to the greenhouse effect, and are environmentally benign.

Ultimately, the decision regarding which alternative refrigerants and insulation blowing agents are most suitable for replacing ozone depleting CFCs in domestic refrigeration, should be based what is best for the ozone layer and the atmosphere.

Greenpeace, along with an increasing number of engineers and scientists, maintains that the future of environmentally safer refrigeration lies with natural substances, such as hydrocarbons, CO2, ammonia, water, air. Among these natural substances, hydrocarbon technologies are the most readily available at the present time for the purposes of domestic refrigeration. With hydrocarbon technology, there is no need for the chemical industry's two-step, environmentally harmful and economically wasteful approach. Hydrocarbons have zero ozone depletion potential, and very low global warming impact. Fortunately, they are also very efficient refrigerants and blowing agents for insulation foam.

THE STORY OF "GREENFREEZE"

In the spring Greenpeace brought together scientists who had extensively researched the use of propane and butane as refrigerants, with an East German company DKK Scharfenstein. The company had been producing refrigerators for 50 years and was the leading household appliance manufacturer in the former East Germany. After reunification, however, it faced severe economic problems and was due to be closed down.

The meeting between the scientists and DKK Scharfenstein resulted in the birth of 'Greenfreeze' technology for domestic refrigeration. Greenfreeze refrigerators use hydrocarbons for both the blowing of the insulation foam and the refrigerant and they are entirely free of ozone destroying and global warming chemicals.

When DKK Scharfenstein announced their intention to mass produce "Greenfreeze", Greenpeace successfully campaigned to gather tens of thousands of pre-orders for the yet-to-be-produced new refrigerator from environmentally conscious consumers in Germany. This overwhelming support from the public secured the capital investment needed for the new 'Greenfreeze' product, and at the same time, salvaged the company and saved the jobs of its workers.

The major household appliance manufacturers, who had already invested in HFC-134a refrigeration technology as the substitute for CFCs, at first claimed that the 'Greenfreeze' concept would not work. However, upon realizing that the first completely -CFC, HCFC and HFC-free refrigerator was about to come on the market, and recognizing the market appeal of a truly environmentally friendly refrigerator, the four biggest producers, Bosch, Siemens, Liebherr and Miele gave up their resistance to the hydrocarbon technology, and introduced their own line of 'Greenfreeze' models in the spring of 1993.

Within a year and a half the Greenfreeze technology has spread like wild-fire throughout Europe, and to other parts of the world. Many models of 'Greenfreeze' refrigerators are now on sale in Germany, Austria, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Britain. All of the major European companies, Bosch, Siemens, Electrolux, Liebherr, Miele, Quelle, Vestfrost , Bauknecht, Foron,AEG are marketing Greenfreeze-technology based refrigerators. Even the Environmental Ministers of Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands have lent their support by buying a Greenfreeze refrigerator.

Greenfreeze technology has also spread to other continents. Greenfreeze is about to be produced in Argentina. Companies in India are expressing great interest in converting to the hydrocarbons. Godrej-GE and Voltas Ltd. are currently moving ahead to a pilot plant stage to convert to cyclopentane foam blowing, in cooperation with the Swiss/German ECOFRIG project. The Dutch organization ECOZONE has been working with the Pakistan Holland Metal Project (PHMP) in Peshawar on a training course for refrigerator technicians in the use of hydrocarbon technology.

As a result of Greenpeace's initiatives in China, Qingdao company plans to have its Greenfreeze models on the market by February, 1995. Other Chinese companies are expected to follow suit, with the assistance of bilateral arrangements with the German government, under the provisions of the Montreal Protocol. A Greenpeace exhibition in Tokyo in April 1993 attracted over 600 representatives from Japanese and South Korean companies.

In Kenya, the Climate Action Network (CAN) Africa is working together with the National Environment Secretariat and the National Refrigeration Demonstration Centre of the Kenyan Polytechnic on a proposal to demonstrate hydrocarbon technology in Kenya.

In Ghana, despite receiving training from the World Bank in HFC-134a conversion, the National Refrigeration Workers Association of Ghana are reluctant to switch to this expensive chemical. Together with Friends of the Earth Ghana, a training course is now planned in the conversion of existing refrigerators to run with hydrocarbons. 80% of the country's domestic market are second-hand refrigerators from Europe. Two years ago, the Netherlands who ship 200,000 of these fridges a year to West Africa decided to convert them to propane in order not to be accused of chemical dumping later on. The project aims to develop capacity for retrofitting in Ghana itself. As of January 1, 1995 it will be forbidden in Germany to trade in refrigerators containing CFCs.

Meanwhile, companies like Matsushita and Sharp in Japan, have gone half-way by converting to pentane blown insulation foam. Similarly, in Australia, Fisher & Paykel and E-Mail are blowing foam with cyclopentane, and E-Mail plans to have a Greenfreeze, bar refrigerator on the market by 1995.

Greenfreeze Technology

Greenfreeze uses a mixture of propane (R290) and isobutane (R60Oa), or isobutane as a pure gas for the refrigerant. This replaces the ozone-destroying chemicals currently used in refrigeration systems worldwide. The filling quantities are about two thirds less than what is required with HFC-134a and CFC-12, due to the technical and thermodynamic properties of hydrocarbons.

Propane and butane are natural gases available without licenses all over the world at prices (in a purified form) comparable to those of CFCs. The energy efficiency of the propane/butane refrigerators has been proved to be as good as those cooled with CFCs or HFC-134a.

Some "Greenfreeze" refrigerators with isobutane use up to 38 percent less energy than their identical counterparts with HFC-134a. Bosch-Siemens announced a 50% energy savings with Greenfreeze in their 1993 annual report.

Greenfreeze is insulated with cyclopentane blown polyurethane foam. This replaces the CFC- or HCFC-blown insulation foams currently used in refrigerators. Cyclopentane has no ozone depletion potential (ODP) and the effect of its components on global warming is negligible. The insulation value of cyclopentane blown foam compares favorably with that of CFC-11 blown foam, and is better than HCFC-141b blown foam. According to the UNEP "In the past two years cyclopentane has emerged as the most promising zero Ozone Depleting Potential (ODP) alternative to CFC-11 as a blowing agent for rigid insulation foam."

Direct Global Warming Potential of CO2, CFC-11, CFC-12, HCFC-141b, HFC-134a and the Hydrocarbons Cyclopentane, Propane, and Isobutane:

Flammability And Safety Standards For Hydrocarbons

Hydrocarbons are flammable. However, their flammability can be easily mitigated through adequate safety measures in production and product design. The content of propane or butane in a domestic 'Greenfreeze' refrigerator equals roughly the content of two cigarette lighters. The risk of explosion is minimal: it takes between 17 g/cubic meter and 39 g/cubic meter to create an explosive mixture. Therefore, if the refrigerant were to leak outside the refrigerator, an explosion would be nearly impossible. In the unlikely event of a sudden and complete leakage into the cabinet, explosion of the mixture would also be highly improbable as ignition sources such as the light switches and evaporators have been moved into the foam insulation. In addition, the lubricating oil in the system absorbs up to 50% of the hydrocarbon refrigerant.

The Technischer Ueberwachungsverein (TUEV), the German safety and standards institution, has approved the 'Greenfreeze' Models as "safe and tested" and states that as a result of their investigations "there are no dangers in the use, transport and storage of this refrigerator due to the use of the liquid gas as a cooling agent" and that "appearance and explosion of propane butane inside the refrigerator can be practically excluded". Its safety-sign is valid for the entire European Community market. Upcoming European legislation will allow up to one kilogram of inflammable refrigerant without restriction.

Underwriters Laboratory in the US has also approved cyclopentane for insulation foam blowing, as well as the use of up to 113 g of hydrocarbons for refrigerant.

'Back To The Future'

* The use of hydrocarbons in domestic refrigeration predates the invention of the "miracle" compounds --CFCs--in the early '30s. In the United States, in the mid '30s, out of 60 different refrigerator brands, 11 used isobutane as refrigerant. The refrigerant charge in those refrigerators is estimated to have been approximately 1.5 kg (1500 grams), (3.3 lbs) of isobutane. 1 In comparison, today's hydrocarbon refrigerators, with hermetically sealed compressor systems, use between 30 to 70 grams of refrigerant, depending on the size of the refrigerator. That is 20-50 times less refrigerant used under much safer conditions. The recent advent of hydrocarbon technology in domestic refrigeration represents a positive technological reach "back to the future". A reach to the past in order to secure the future.

Technology Transfer To Developing Countries

German refrigerator producers, such as Foron, Bosch, Siemens and Liebherr, are willing to enter into cooperation with refrigeration companies in developing countries at all levels, from distribution to sale of components, to pure technology transfer, conversion of existing facilities or delivery of new machines and relevant components.

Money is available from the Multilateral Fund of the Montreal Protocol to finance this kind of CFC-free technology in developing countries. The German ministries for economic cooperation and for the environment have agreed to make several million US $ available in 1994 for the transfer of hydrocarbon refrigeration technology to these countries.

Greenfreeze is particularly suitable for the needs of future household refrigeration growth-markets in Asia, Latin-America, Africa and Eastern Europe. Its technology is easy to handle, requires no special and expensive high-tech equipment and creates no dependency on imports or expensive licenses or substances.

Greenfreeze Frozen Out In America

All of the major European companies will have switched their domestic refrigerators to hydrocarbon "Greenfreeze" technology by the end of 1994. Unfortunately, the American refrigeration industry, suffering from environmental and economic myopia, is resistant to making the inevitable conversion. Consequently, the American industry --by clutching on to obsolete, transitional technologies-- is in danger of losing its competitive edge, and the American consumer is denied the right of access to an environmentally safer appliance.

American industry's reluctance to embrace the new Greenfreeze technology seems to be driven by short term investment/profit considerations rather than long term industrial strategy or environmental concerns.

Some of the manufacturers that market Greenfreeze in Europe have so far declined to do so in the American market. Their rationale has been that the hydrocarbon technology is not compatible with the large size and the automatic defrost features of American refrigerators. However, these concerns are easily addressed. Tests have shown that not more than 70g of hydrocarbon refrigerants are needed to efficiently cool a large American style refrigerator/freezer unit. That is well within the 113g hydrocarbon refrigerant limit recommended by Underwriters Laboratory.

The technological challenges posed by automatic defrost have also been resolved, as evidenced by the Liebherr Company's recently (09/94) announced plans to have a 'no-frost' refrigerator/freezer model on the market in 1995. Furthermore, American manufacturers could easily take the first step towards an environmentally safer refrigerator by immediately switching to blowing the insulation foam with cyclopentane, instead of continuing to use HCFC-141b.

Greenpeace Forecasts North American Thaw For Greenfreeze

Despite the U.S. industry's current resistance to switching to 'Greenfreeze' technology, Greenpeace is confident that 'Greenfreeze' has a bright future in the American market. This optimism is based on the inherent environmental and technological advantages of hydrocarbon refrigeration over HCFC and HFC based technologies. These substances have a time-limited market potential because of their negative impact on the environment, and they are more expensive and less efficient than hydrocarbons.

Furthermore, indications are that despite vested interests promoting the HCFC and HFC technologies, there is considerable interest on the research level in Greenfreeze technology among American manufacturers. Greenpeace believes that it is only matter of time before the technology penetrates the North American continent, and that the company that makes the first move will gain the greatest commercial benefits.

The future of 'Greenfreeze' in North America will ultimately be decided by the consumers. North American consumers are just as sophisticated and environmentally conscious as their European counterparts. Soon the major manufacturers will realize that a domestic 'Greenfreeze' refrigerator offers huge market potentials.

Written by: Greenpeace


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