EPA Approves Three Hydrocarbons to Replace Ozone-Depleting Substances in Freezers

By Avery Fellow  

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Dec. 14 the approval of three hydrocarbons to replace ozone-depleting substances in commercial and household refrigerators and freezers.

Hydrocarbon refrigerants pose flammability risks, but EPA has imposed use conditions to ensure that the risks are lower than those posed by other substitutes.

Compared to other refrigerants, hydrocarbons have zero ozone-depletion potential and very low global warming potential, EPA said.

The approval is expected to greatly increase the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants in the United States. Hydrocarbon refrigerants have been used in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and Japan for more than 15 years.

Replacing older refrigerants is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 600,000 metric tons by 2020, EPA said.

EPA approved propane, isobutane, and a chemical known as R-441A to replace the chlorofluorocarbon known as CFC-12 and the hydrochlorofluorocarbon HCFC-22 as refrigerants. Isobutane and R-441A are approved for use in household refrigerators and freezers, and propane is approved for use in retail stand-alone refrigerators and freezers.

Isobutane and propane are hydrocarbons, and R-441A is a blend of hydrocarbons.

The approval will be effective 60 days after publication of final rule in the Federal Register.

EPA Imposes Use Conditions

The refrigerants can only be used in new refrigerators and freezers, not for retrofitting existing equipment, EPA said.

Additionally, no more than 2 ounces (57 grams) of hydrocarbon refrigerants may be used in household refrigerators and freezers and no more than 5.3 ounces (150 grams) may be used in retail refrigerators and freezers.

Also, all pipes, hoses, and other devices through which the refrigerant passes must be labeled in red to indicate the use of a flammable refrigerant. The equipment must also adhere to other labeling requirements to indicate the risk of fire or explosion.

Part of SNAP Program

The action is part of EPA's mandate under Section 612 of the Clean Air Act (40 C.F.R. 82) to evaluate alternatives to ozone-depleting substances, which it carries out through the Significant New Alternatives Policy program.

Approximately one-third of the 100 million household refrigerators manufactured annually worldwide use either isobutane or a blend of isobutane and propane, according to the U.N. Environment Program. The percentage of refrigerators using these materials is expected to jump to 75 percent by 2020.

EPA proposed approving the hydrocarbons in May 2010. EPA said it took action after requests from Ben and Jerry's, General Electric, and other companies to approve hydrocarbon refrigerants (75 Fed. Reg. 25,799).

EPA Extends Lab Use Exemption

EPA also said Dec. 14 that it is extending an exemption for production or import of certain ozone-depleting substances until Dec. 31, 2014.

The exemption applies to Class I ozone depleting substances that are produced or imported for essential laboratory and analytical purposes, according to a final rule published in the Federal Register Dec. 15 (76 Fed. Reg. 77,909).

The exemption was scheduled to expire Dec. 31.

The United States agreed to phase out production and import of ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol, but the agreement allows for exemptions for certain uses.

Class I substances include chlorofluorocarbon, halon, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform, methyl bromide, and hydrobromofluorocarbon.


A draft version of the EPA final rule listing substitutes for ozone-depleting substances is available at http://www.epa.gov/ozone/snap/download/SNAP%20HC%20unofficial%20version%2012-9-11.pdf .  

For more information on the EPA final rule listing substitutes for ozone-depleting substances, contact EPA's Margaret Sheppard at (202) 343-9163 or sheppard.margaret@epa.gov .  

The EPA final rule extending laboratory and analytical use exemption for essential class I ozone-depleting substances is available at http://bit.ly/vwewRB .  

For more information on the EPA final rule extending laboratory and analytical use exemption for essential class I ozone-depleting substances, contact EPA's Jeremy Arling at (202) 343-9055 or arling.jeremy@epa.gov .