Colruyt pursues 100% fossil fuel-free stores

By Andrew Williams, Feb 15, 2017, 18:00 3 minute reading

The Belgian retailer hopes to be building fossil fuel-free stores by 2018. It also wants to become HFC-free. 

Bio-Planet store (Colruyt Group), Braine l'Alleud, Belgium

The Colruyt Group’s ultimate goal is to become HFC-free. In December 2014 it adopted the official target of using 100% natural refrigerants for all its cooling needs, investing in hydrocarbons to deliver this vision. By 2018 it now hopes to go one step further – by building its first fossil fuel-free stores.

Colruyt’s current system blueprint is based on two or three small refrigerant circuits each with a maximum hydrocarbon charge of 2.5kg, and a secondary system that uses propylene glycol to bring the cold to where it is needed.

At the system’s heart are compact chillers containing less than 2.5kg of propane or propene. With a refrigeration capacity of 30-50 kW, one chiller can cool the Group’s smaller OKay (convenience) and Bio-Planet stores. Colruyt supermarkets need to run two compact chillers. An extra chiller is always added redundantly, ready to step in should one chiller fail.

Traditionally, supermarket customers would request what they wanted from the butcher’s counter and return when their order was ready. “But the market is changing. Customers want to walk in, be spontaneous, and grab whatever they need,” Collin Bootsveld, project engineer for the Colruyt Group, told Accelerate Europe.

The way Colruyt sells meat is changing along with customer habits. “The market has changed to people taking things directly from the shelves. So we’ve physically changed our shops – this has changed the demand for cold,” he says.

Colruyt stores are usually characterised by a cold room housing fruit, vegetables, dairy and other products, stand-alone freezer cabinets for frozen goods, a butcher’s counter, and vertical refrigerators with doors to display processed meat.

The market has changed to people taking things directly from the shelves. So we’ve physically changed our shops – this has changed the demand for cold."
- Collin Bootsveld, project engineer, Colruyt Group

Innovation, made in Belgium!

The Colruyt Group has “no regrets” about the decision to adopt 100% natural refrigerants for all its cooling needs. Indeed, Bootsveld and his team are continuing to innovate.

“We’re going to test a CO2 heat pump, specifically designed for hot tap water,” he says. This would eliminate the need for a natural gas connection to provide hot tap water.

In the wake of the Kigali agreement to phase down HFCs, Bootsveld is even more convinced that adopting natural refrigerants is the right way to go. “There is always a learning curve, and we’ve started that curve early. We’ve moved to a new technology, and we’ve done it in a reliable manner,” he says.

Bootsveld argues that early adoption of natural refrigerants is already putting Colruyt at a competitive advantage compared to retailers that are yet to begin their transition away from HFCs.

By 2018, Colruyt hopes to be building shops without any fossil fuel connections at all. “In September, our CEO decided that every time we remodel a shop, we’ll insulate it to the same level as our new shops. Within the next 10-12 years, all our shops will be well insulated,” Bootsveld says.

Heat demand is thus reduced to the extent that the stores’ heating needs can be entirely served by waste heat from the cooling system. “The shops will be 100% electric. Fossil-fuel free!” Bootsveld says.

The full version of this interview with Colruyt is in the spring edition of Accelerate Europe. It is part of a wider story on natural refrigerants in Europe’s biggest food retailers. Click here to read it.

By Andrew Williams

Feb 15, 2017, 18:00

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