When Refrigerators Warm the Planet: GE’s Frig Reforms

(GE’s first HPC free model)

Scientists continue to discover gases more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. GE just announced Tuesday it will be the first refrigerator producer to eliminate a gas called HFC (Hydroflorocarbon) 134a from its frig insulation materials. HFCs have 1,430 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Before using HFCs, frig manufacturers used CFCs as a blowing agent and refrigerant. But then CFCs were banned because of their effect on the ozone. Were HFCs that great of a replacement?

GE is the first frig manufacturer to propose eliminating HFCs from their processing. One potential replacement gas is cyclopentane, a hydrocarbon molecule with a global warming potential of 3 to 10. GE has already converted one factory to cyclopentane, which will eliminate 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year (equivalent to 78,000 cars taken off the road).

Frig companies are also working to recapture some of the harmful gases still locked in the insulation of trashed refrigerators.

The question(s) is(are) then, (a) why didn’t they replace CFC with cyclopentane back in the 1970s?, (b) are scientists going to discover some environmentally damaging impact of cyclopentane 20 years from now?, and (c) is anyone designing a carbon neutral refrigerator?


2 thoughts on “When Refrigerators Warm the Planet: GE’s Frig Reforms

  1. This article is very interesting, and it shows that we have discovered better solutions to make refrigerators that are more environmentally friendly. I am not sure if anyone is designing a carbon neutral refrigerator right now, but I think scientists have been active in exploring more ways to harm the environment as little as possible.
    To answer why they did not CFC with cyclopentane back in the 70s, I would guess that people might be aware of this alternative, but did not know exactly if the it would result any better than CFC. Plus, it might also be more costly.

  2. One of the commenters on the original article claims that cyclopentane is explosive when it comes into contact with air. I’m not well-versed enough in chemistry to determine how cyclopentane could be safely contained, but I imagine there would always be at least some risk, however minor, of using such a refrigerator. Cyclopentane may be better for the environment, but does that trump the potential harm of a dangerous chemical reaction? I’m assuming here such a reaction is a real possibility, but someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

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