General Electric's latest green-technology initiative will be found in unlikely place: the inside of a refrigerator.
The industrial giant tomorrow will announce that it has changed its refrigerator manufacturing to use a gas that dramatically reduces the amount of greenhouse gases emitted. GE will host an event at a Decatur, Ala., plant where the atmosphere-friendly gas has first been introduced into GE's refrigerators.
The gas, called cyclopentane, is used as a blowing agent for the foam insulation poured into refrigeration products during manufacture. GE said it will spend about $16 million to convert its Decatur facility, part of a larger investment in the facility, to use cyclopentane instead of HFC 134a, a refrigerant which traps heat in the atmosphere.
By switching over, GE will eliminate the same amount of greenhouse gases that 78,000 cars emit in a year, representing a 99 percent reduction, according to GE. The calculations were made using EPA data for the global-warming potential of different gases and were done in conjunction with consulting company GreenOrder, a GE representative said.
GE Appliances is making the switch to live up to the company's Ecomagination initiative to develop green-technology products and reduce the company's environmental footprint, said Paul Surowiec, the general manager for refrigeration at GE Appliances and Lighting. The company took a "clean sheet" approach to making refrigeration products to consider the performance as well as the environmental attributes from production to disposal, he said.
"There certainly were pockets before but we've seen a significant increase in the desire of consumers to hold us accountable for environmental stewardship," Surowiec said. "We were looking for optimization from an environment and energy perspective and this one hit home."
During operation, the blowing agent will improve the effectiveness of the insulation slightly, he added. GE earlier this year said it will participate in an EPA program to dispose of refrigerators so that ozone-depleting and greenhouse gases are captured when they are recycled.
The company plans to introduce cyclopentane to its other refrigeration products manufactured in the U.S. by 2014.