CHICAGO (AP) _ The refrigerator bites the hand it feeds.

It sucks up 20 percent of the electricity used in a typical home, then refuses to go quietly to its grave.

Its innards and insulation contain ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons and its parts are made of an array of plastics and metals that bedevil recyclers.

Manufacturers have vastly improved the energy efficiency of refrigerators in the last two decades, but an environmental group and a national consortium of 23 electric utilities believe they can do much more.

They're offering a $30 million prize to the U.S. manufacturer that produces the leanest-running, Earth-friendliest fridge.

They hope to see on the market as early as 1994 a refrigerator that uses up to half the electricity of today's models, contains no CFCs and is more easily disassembled for recycling.

''The nice thing about this is that you can attack a number of areas of energy efficiency and environmental issues simultaneously,'' said Ralph Cavanagh, a co-director in San Francisco of the National Resources Defense Council's energy program.

The Super Efficient Refrigerator Program, conceived by his organization, is headed by Ray Farhang, product development manager of Southern California Edison Co., a $6 million contributor to the prize pot.

Cavanagh and Farhang said the super fridge would represent advances in four areas: electricity conservation, CFC reduction, recyclability and U.S. competitiveness.

Refrigerators consume 7 percent of the electricity produced in the United States, Farhang said. Any reduction in electricity production means less carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by coal-burning power plants.

''Finding ways to save electricity is the most powerful air pollution control strategy imaginable,'' Cavanagh said.

Fridge makers said that today's models use about half the electricity of those produced 20 years ago. Another 50 percent gain in energy efficiency would have a much smaller impact on the amount of electricity consumed.

''It's diminishing returns - the payback is not as great,'' said Tom Haenisch, manager of refrigerator product planning for Admiral, the Galesburg- based refrigerator-manufacturing division of Maytag Corp.

A CFC-free refrigerator by 1994 would beat by two years the federal government's deadline for phasing out those chemicals. But there is a cost involved.

Len Swatkowski of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers in Chicago said manufacturers are testing CFC substitutes that are as effective as the refrigerant CFC-12 but as much as 25 percent less efficient than CFC- 11, a component of the insulating foam inside fridge walls and doors.

Manufacturers could compensate by adding more insulation but are limited by the size of the standard refrigerator slot in most homes.

One solution: vacuum panels, which are in the experimental stage, said refrigeration researcher Isaac Turiel at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. But refrigerator walls containing vacuum panels still would need some type of foam for rigidity, he said.