The fact that EPA has just approved a safer and more environmentally sound refrigerant is amazing news in itself. But the story behind this new product is even more amazing. The material, called HCR-188c, is a hydrocarbon blend of common materials (among them ethane, propane, isobutene, normal butane) that have no ozone depleting potential and very little in the way of greenhouse gas type of heat trapping. Even better, appliances require only a quarter the amount as current refrigerants (hydrochlorofluorocarbons, HCFCs, and hydrofluorocarbons, HFCs), costs 20 cents per charge compared to 62 cents, and draw one third less power. Who is the inventor? His name is Hawaiian former auto mechanic Richard Maruya who developed it in a small home lab on his patio. He has been doggedly trying to bring this product to market for years:
“It was a long, hard push to get it where it is,” said Maruya, who began thinking about a more energy-efficient and environmentally safe refrigerant 15 years ago, after an injury sidelined him from running his service station and machine shop.
“I never imagined all the roadblocks and bumps in the road I would have, not only from the EPA but from people on the outside who told me I was crazy.”
Although widely accepted in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, hydrocarbon-based refrigerants were banned in the United States because of concerns about flammability.
Maruya, 60, said a lot of people have been recharging their auto and appliance cooling systems with bootleg hydrocarbon mixtures, “but I wanted to make sure mine was legal. I had to convince the EPA that this was the one.”
After more than four years of back-and-forth with the federal agency, the final hurdle Maruya had to clear before approval was persuading the EPA of the miniscule flammability risk from the small amount of HCR-188c needed — about an ounce for a household refrigerator.
“Even if there was a massive leak in the kitchen, even if you had an open flame on a propane stove, it would not ignite,” he said.
One gets the distinct whiff here of lack of enthusiasm by EPA. This will supplant some big money refrigerants made by even bigger money chemical companies. It’s better, it’s cheaper, it’s more efficient, it’s more environment friendly. This guy’s persistence and ingenuity and hard work overcame the odds. My hat’s off to him.
One wonders how many other better-cheaper-safer-friendlier ideas were stillborn because they were squelched by the Big Boys or left to die by unimaginative and uninterested officials. Another reason to be glad science is being allowed back in government.