Saving energy: CFC-free refrigerator is 30 years old

When Wolfgang Lohbeck (78) and Albrecht Meyer (80) think back to March 15, 1993, they are not without pride.

Saving energy: CFC-free refrigerator is 30 years old

When Wolfgang Lohbeck (78) and Albrecht Meyer (80) think back to March 15, 1993, they are not without pride. At the time, the Greenpeace man from Hamburg and the engineer from the Ore Mountains were significantly involved in a technology revolution: the start of series production of the world's first refrigerator without the ozone killer CFC. The device was built by the former GDR company Foron Hausgeräte GmbH. The environmental organization and the Saxons had entered into an unusual West-East cooperation.

Hundreds of millions of CFC-free refrigerators have now been built worldwide, and the greenhouse gas was banned in new appliances in Germany in 1995. A lot has happened, especially in terms of the energy efficiency of the devices. Experts estimate the power consumption of modern refrigerators to be 30 to 40 percent of what the devices used 30 years earlier. Industry giant BSH Hausgeräte uses similar numbers. A Bosch built-in fridge, for example, used 226 kilowatt hours a year in 1994 - a comparable device today only uses around 74 kilowatt hours.

Little love for an idea 30 years ago

The industry is not only driving this development for selfless purposes: "The energy label is one of the most important factors in the purchase decision for household appliances," says Petra Süptitz from the consumer research company GfK. The focus is still on price and quality. But saving electricity and wanting to do something for the environment are real incentives for consumers.

30 years ago, things looked a little different in the industry, as Lohbeck explains. At the time, the Greenpeace man was looking for a company that would build a CFC and FC-free refrigerator. However, the German refrigerator industry has strictly relied on the agent R134a. This is a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) that no longer contains chlorine but still has a high global warming potential. Greenpeace and Lohbeck, on the other hand, only wanted to use hydrocarbons for cooling. The idea did not meet with approval from the major refrigerator manufacturers. "They rained down really angry reactions on us."

During his search, he finally came across the Eastern producer DKK Scharfenstein, as Foron was called until 1993. For Meyer - head of the testing department at the time - the trusteeship and the imminent liquidation were urgent issues. "I was of the opinion that this could be a salvation for us and I decided to test these substances," Meyer recalls.

The company was initially buttoned up, says Lohbeck. "They had no experience with Greenpeace and didn't want Greenpeace suddenly stuck to the chimney." In July 1992 it was agreed to build ten test refrigerators. Greenpeace wanted to pay 27,000 Deutschmarks for it. But then events would have rolled over, says Lohbeck.

A newspaper report appeared on July 14, according to which the trust wanted to liquidate the company. "We went on the offensive." On July 16, a press conference was held in Niederschmiedeberg in the Ore Mountains. Topic: the CFC-free refrigerator and the impending settlement by the trustee. "It was one of Greenpeace's longest and most turbulent press conferences," says Lohbeck. In the end, Foron built the refrigerator - against all odds in the industry.

Trend towards larger devices

Today, it is emphatically environmentally conscious. BSH Hausgeräte, for example, not only already offers cooling devices in the highest efficiency class A. The Bosch subsidiary also wants to use environmentally friendly materials for some devices.

At the same time, however, there is also a trend towards larger and more powerful devices, observes GfK expert Lüptitz. "People then often no longer look at the real power consumption, but are guided by the performance or size of a device and the energy efficiency class."

The size is particularly important here. In the medium efficiency class C, a large American refrigerator quickly reaches 100 kilowatt hours a year, while a small built-in refrigerator is closer to 60 kilowatt hours, explains Tina Götsch, energy consultant at the consumer advice center in Baden-Württemberg the energy label brings relatively little," she says.

If you set the refrigerator to about four instead of seven degrees, the power consumption increases. Even warm food should not be placed directly in the refrigerator. "These grandma tips are coming up again with the energy price crisis."

Great competition from West Germany

Greenpeace and Foron went their separate ways after the 1993 coup. "For us it was clear: We are not the promoter of a company," says Lohbeck. The Foron people, above all their boss Eberhard Günther, who died in 2015, later regretted that they did not patent their refrigerant. At the time, they listened to Greenpeace, who didn't want exactly that. However, it is disputed whether the mixture could have been patented at all. Lohbeck clearly says no, Meyer at least thinks it would have been difficult.

In the end, Foron did not save the refrigerator revolution. The big competitors from West Germany quickly followed suit. "Two years, then the number was eaten," says former Foron press spokesman Siegfried Schlottig (79). In 2001 the company was finally history. Schlottig also affirms the question of pride. There are now far more than a billion CFC-free refrigerators. "What we set up back then went from the Ore Mountains around the world."