GE Switches to New Technology That Reaps Huge CO2 Reduction

A robotic arm sprays insulating foam at the GE Appliances & Lighting refrigerator manufacturing plant in Decatur
A robotic arm sprays insulating foam at the GE Appliances & Lighting refrigerator manufacturing plant in Decatur

If you or an older relative still refers to the refrigerator an “icebox,” that is because it was not that long ago ice was the best option for cooling and preserving food.  Modern refrigerators have replaced the messy old iceboxes, with a couple tradeoffs:  the food we eat often has enough preservatives to preserve us; and those refrigerators are energy hogs.  Even before those appliances reach showrooms, the manufacturing process sends quite a few emissions into the atmosphere, too.

Refrigeration manufacturing technology, however, keeps improving, and General Electric has found a new material that drastically reduces CO2 emissions.  The company’s switch is the equivalent to the annual reduction of 78,000 cars from American roads.

Employees at GE’s branch that builds refrigerators, GE Appliances & Lighting, recently discovered that a new compound or hydrocarbon, cyclopentane, can slash greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Cyclopentane is a foam-blowing agent that shoots insulation into the doors and casings of refrigerators and freezers.  Previously, GE used a hydrocarbon  named tetrafluoroethane, or HFC-134a.  With the switch to cyclopentane, however, GE’s Decatur, Alabama plant can eliminate over 400,000 metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.  The change also reduces the Decatur plant’s total GHG emissions by 80%.  Furthermore, GE’s engineers and managers realized that the product contributes to energy efficiency and is also cheaper, saving buyers money.  As of now the new process affects three of GE’s freezer-top refrigerator disposal.

Remember that the change to cyclopentane is “greener,” but not green.  Cyclopentane is harmful and highly flammable, so working around it still requires safety glasses and good ventilation.  The Center of Disease Control describes it as a “central nervous system depressant,” though the previously used agent was toxic as well.

Nevertheless, a switch in which few of us would show interest makes a big difference for workers in Decatur.  GE states that the transition to cyclopentane will have an immediate effect of the creation of 25 jobs, and additional investment will retain 1,000 jobs at the facility.

The lesson of GE’s transition is that energy efficiency is about more than the actual products that consumers choose to purchase.  Revamping the manufacturing process and a thorough examination of the company’s supply chain may not generate a “wow” reaction, but are arguably even more important.

To learn a little more, watch the video below:


Leon Kaye is the Editor of and contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.



Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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