The Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP), is an EPA-driven initiative developed under Section 612 of the Clean Air Act, designed to protect the natural environment from harmful substances via the identification of safer alternatives. The policy currently covers a number of sectors, including those implicated in the production of aerosols, adhesives and coatings, sterilants and refrigeration-related appliances. In terms of the laboratory, there is perhaps no tool as important the laboratory freezer, which is used to safely house valuable samples and reagent stock.
There are a number of laboratory refrigerants in common use, and the EPA is currently working with manufacturers to phase out the use of environmentally unfriendly and potentially hazardous materials such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). This is due to the high global warming potential of HFCs and related refrigerants, which when exposed to users in a confined space are thought to be toxic.
A safer alternative
Owing to the dangers associated with the use of HFCs, manufacturers are developing systems that rely on natural, safer refrigerant types such as hydrocarbons. Refrigerant gases such as R290 (a propane) are increasingly being used due to their high thermodynamic performance and low environmental impact. R170, a refrigerant grade ethane, is also on the SNAP approval list for use in refrigeration applications, and has an ozone depletion potential of zero, and very low global warming potential.
While R290 and R170 are flammable, they have in fact been reviewed and deemed safe for use as refrigerants provided the requirements for refrigerator/freezer construction and testing are met (as required by US and Canadian safety standards). Systems that make use of hydrocarbon-based refrigerants are therefore a safer alternative for the environment, and manufacturers that are making a commitment to the elimination of hydrofluorocarbon gases are paving the way for more sustainable science.
Stricter testing for a safer system
As an independent, global industry leader in safety standards and the testing of laboratory equipment, Underwriter Laboratories (UL) authorizes ultra-low temperature freezers to bare the UL safety mark in North America following thorough testing. This includes a rigorous hydrocarbon refrigerant leak test to investigate the safety of the freezer and its design. Laboratory appliances that have undergone such measures to properly assess their environmental impact and safety are sought after, particularly owing to the pressures faced by many laboratories to become more energy efficient and adopt sustainable working practices.
If you’re looking at improving the sustainability of your cold storage program, why not take part in the North American Laboratory Freezer Challenge?
Sign-up for the challenge here: http://www.freezerchallenge.org/sign-up.html