New Science Confirms Refrigerant Gases Pose Grave Warming Threat

This press release was forwarded to me:

WASHINGTON– A new study published today in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that refrigerant chemicals, so
called F-gases, are a more dangerous global warming threat than previously
predicted. The study was authored by scientists from the
Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, United States government
agencies NOAA and EPA, along with a scientist from the chemical company

The paper projects that HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) emissions will rise
rapidly in coming years and decades, threatening to effectively cancel out
some of the hard fought greenhouse gas reductions made through energy
efficiency and clean energy deployment. Scientists have projected that we
need to cap greenhouse gas emissions now and rapidly reduce emissions by mid
century to stabilize the atmosphere and avoid dangerous climate change.
Uncontrolled HFC consumption and emissions growth would make it more
difficult to reach those goals.

The rest is quoted in full below and offered on an FYI basis. I have not seen the study discussed. I also find it a little frustrating that there are very few numbers in there, but oh well…

“We must aggressively phase out HFCs to effectively combat climate
change. This new science confirms Greenpeace’s longstanding warning of the
significant global warming threat posed by these super greenhouse gases,”
says Kert Davies, Greenpeace US Research Director. “The Obama administration
should use every means necessary to prevent the emissions of F-gases so
that efforts to clean up the energy sector aren’t undermined. There are simple,
market-ready solutions waiting to be deployed provided adequate incentives
are provided.”

To phase out HFCs, current bans and phase outs underway
in Europe and elsewhere must be expanded upon to include o all developed and
developing countries quickly. The new science also highlights the need for a redoubled cooperative effort
between the UN climate treaty (Kyoto Protocol, upcoming Copenhagen talks)
and the UN ozone layer treaty (Montreal Protocol).

HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) and similar gases are used in refrigerators
and air conditioning units in buildings and homes, cars, trucks, and trains.
The gases are also used as foam blowing agents. The new PNAS study
attributes the growth in HFC consumption to the rapid growth of Asian
markets for refrigeration, automobile air-conditioning, and commercial air
conditioning and refrigeration, along with the accelerated phase out of HCFC
(ozone-depleting refrigerants) under the Montreal Protocol and subsequent
replacement of those chemicals with HFCs.

In 1992, Greenpeace coordinated commercial development of a
climate-friendly refrigeration technology known as “Greenfreeze” and
open-sourced the intellectual property. In 1997, the United Nations awarded
Greenpeace its Ozone Protection Award for this work. There are now an
estimated 300 million Greenfreeze-type refrigerators in use worldwide
(except in the United States and Canada), sold by major corporations
including Bosch-Siemens, Haier, Whirlpool, Panasonic, LG, Samsung, Miele and
Electrolux. The deployment of this alternative technology has eliminated
the use of approximately 43,000 pounds of HFCs – equivalent to a reduction
of about 61 million tons of carbon dioxide or the annual pollution from
approximately 10 million cars. Greenpeace is working to make these
refrigerators available in the United States where they are currently not
certified by the EPA.

Last September, Ben & Jerry’s, working with Greenpeace, launched a pilot
program to test 2,000 of their Greenfreeze freezers in ice cream shops and
stores in the United States. Greenpeace also supports Refrigerants,
Naturally, a global initiative dedicated to phasing out the use of HFCs
working with UNEP, CocaCola, PepsiCo, Unilever and other companies.

You can find out more about Greenfreeze here.

9 thoughts on “New Science Confirms Refrigerant Gases Pose Grave Warming Threat

  1. Greenfreeze is a mixture of propane and isobutane. Nothing new here. The EPA and car manufactures are concerned about flammability and therefore liability. Imagine a small propane tank under the hood of your car in a crash.


  2. Did I miss the link somewhere?

    If not here’s the info:

    Physical Sciences – Geophysics:
    Guus J. M. Velders, David W. Fahey, John S. Daniel, Mack McFarland, and Stephen O. Andersen
    The large contribution of projected HFC emissions to future climate forcing
    PNAS published online before print June 22, 2009, doi:10.1073/pnas.0902817106


    Full Text (PDF)

    Supporting Information



  3. Thomas, did you read the Wiki article?

    Butane and propane are very flammable petroleum products; they are used as fuels for gas barbecue grills, disposable lighters, etc. (Propane has even been used as a fuel for alternative energy vehicles, often built by converting stock gasoline-engine vehicles.[6]) Like gasoline, to which it chemically is closely related, propane has a tendency to explode if ignited in an enclosed container, and an internal combustion engine designed to run on gasoline can be converted to run on propane without major modification.

    The use of highly flammable hydrocarbon gases such as butane and propane as automotive refrigerants raises serious safety concerns. The EPA, in evaluating motor vehicle air conditioning substitutes for CFC-12 (Freon, or R-12) under its SNAP program, has classified as “Unacceptable Substitutes” other “Flammable blend[s] of hydrocarbons” by reason of “insufficient data to demonstrate safety.” The EPA defines “Unacceptable” in this context as “illegal for use as a CFC-12 substitute in motor vehicle air conditioners”. All of the refrigerants which EPA approved for motor vehicle use in place of CFC-12 (as of September 28, 2006) contain no more than 4% total flammable hydrocarbons (butane, isobutane, and/or isopentane).[7] Therefore, it appears unlikely, for safety reasons, that EPA will approve ‘Greenfreeze’ or similar hydrocarbon-based refrigerants for automotive use.

    Gasoline tanks are located in the safest place on the car and have a tiny line to the engine. Gasoline tanks are not pressurized so the contents do not rush out in a rupture. Refrigerant lines run every which way under the hood and even into the passenger compartment.


  4. CO2 is certainly a leading contender to replace the environmentally hazardous HFC 134a currently in widespread use, but it will be of little use in the short term, and in existing systems. As the fluorocarbon industry has put a lot of eggs in the HFC-1234yf basket, which like hydrocarbons are also flammable, it is perhaps time to take a more sober look at the real risks posed by HCs in existing systems.

    I’d dearly love to see some independent scientists take a look around Australia to verify the estimate of hydrocarbon refrigerant manufacturers here that they have around 15% of the service market, since becoming established in 1993, and are continuing to experience rapid growth and acceptance in by a number of industries.

    And as we haven’t had any reported incidents, let alone injuries or deaths, perhaps it might just be about time for some scientific analysis of the extent of use of hydrocarbons in the US automotive AC market too, and why the roadsides are not piled high with charred corpses given so much more hydrocarbon refrigerant is sold in the US?

    Velders et. al. have well and truly rung the alarm bell on HFCs, and it’s already well past time for the US EPA to recognise that concerns about HC use in existing systems are based solely on the protection of vested interests and have empirical basis in markets enjoying long and extensive use.

    This would be change we could all believe in.


  5. oops – that should read “no empirical basis” – that’s right, in spite of the number of times you may have heard concerns about HC use in existing systems repeated, there is no evidence in the real world to support them.

    The power of spin and influence peddling is an amazing thing to behold…


  6. Going green in homes and companies takes time and money. Its great that Ben and Jerry’s is trying to minimize the damage to the environment.



  7. Blind Squirrel, yes I read the wiki article. Did you also note how opponents to CO2 claim that it is a toxic hazard? There is a lot of money and prestige in this fight so insignificant threats may be exaggerated just a little bit. As Green Cooling mentions, the empirical evidence for the risks of hydrocarbons is lacking.

    For the refrigerant to be a threat you need not only to rupture the lines, but add a flame at just the right time when you have an explosive mix. Too early and you will get a nice little venting flame at the opening, too late and the gas will have dispersed. Since we are talking about a fairly small amount of refrigerant and narrow lines, I suspect it is hard to get this explosive mix.


  8. Thomas: The notion that CO2 is a toxic hazard is a bit ridiculous. What it is is an engineering hazard. The pressure at the shaft seal is enormous. I wonder how they are dealing with that. What I don’t understand is how Green Cooling can claim

    the empirical evidence for the risks of hydrocarbons is lacking.

    A major hazard for welders in tight compartments is butane lighters! A typical scenario is: a spark melts a hole in the lighter, the gas escapes and is ignited and the welder inhales hot gas or the explosion collapses their lungs. There have been fatalities. The amount of gas in one lighter can blow the windows out of a compact car.All that said, I would not hesitate to drive a car with a hydrocarbon coolant. Driving is so incredibly hazardous as it is compared to the other activities we do that I wouldn’t consider the extra risk significant.


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