Germany-based wholesale giant METRO has started converting its stores in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan to natural refrigerants. 

The first store to be converted is in the capital city of Almaty, with all of its low-temperature cabinets having been replaced with propane (R290) plug-in units.

The cabinets were provided by Modern Expo, based in Ukraine.

METRO believes the Almaty store is the first in the country to use natural refrigerants, a shift that’s “good for the customers, good for the product quality and good for the climate,” noted Olaf Schulze, Director of Energy Management at METRO Properties.

Kazakhstan has a number of older industrial installations using ammonia/NH3 (R717) and one or two using CO2 (R744) refrigeration, according to Sergey Tikhonov, METRO’s Head of Technical Operations in Kazakhstan.

“[This shift is] good for the customers, good for the product quality and good for the climate.”

Olaf Schulze, METRO

Replacing R404 with hydrocarbons

The new R290 plug-in freezers replaced a 12-year-old centralized R404 system. The “existing f-gas systems were constantly leaking and had an effect on storage of goods and availability on shelves,” Schulze explained. “Also in Kazakhstan the M&R OPEX [maintenance and repair operating expenses] are going up dramatically, and prices for f-gases have doubled during the last six months.”

The previous R404 freezers were horizontal types, but these have been replaced by vertical showcases for a total of 42m3 (1,483ft3) of refrigerated area and 110m2 (1,184ft2) of display area. The vertical cabinets are advantageous for “selling goods, the presentation and FIFO [first-in-first-out] approach,” said Tikhonov.

The medium-temperature system (also currently R404) for cold rooms will be replaced by a CO2 refrigeration system, and all medium-temperature display cabinets will be replaced by R290 units by 2023, creating a fully natural refrigerant store. 

On why METRO has chosen hydrocarbons, instead of a CO2 system, for example, Tikhonov said that it was more flexible, and thus easier to adapt to the company’s F-Gas Exit Program (FEP). It also makes it easier to switch out systems in phases, he added.

METRO has a total of eight stores in Kazakhstan. Over the next two years the company expects to convert four of them to natural refrigerants, with the remaining four to follow before 2028, according to Tikhonov. Maintenance on the new system will be carried out by local contractors, Tikhonov added.

The Kazakhstan store is not the first in central or south Asia to be retrofitted with natural refrigerants by METRO. In 2021, the retailer started installing hydrocarbon plug-ins in India and Pakistan as well. 

METRO pursuing F-Gas Exit program

METRO has an ambitious F-Gas Exit Program (FEP), adopted in 2013, as part of its wider sustainability targets. The original goal was to reduce CO2e emissions by 50% before 2030, compared to 2011 numbers. The progress has been good so far, with METRO having managed to reduce its total CO2 emissions by 37% already.

However, METRO isn’t planning on stopping there. In July 2021, METRO upped its climate game, announcing a goal to become climate-neutral in its own operations by 2040. Ninety-three percent of METRO’s greenhouse gas emissions derive from cooling, heating and electricity, meaning the FEP is a very important part of the strategy, which is backed with planned investments of around €1.5 billion (US$1.64 billion).

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