“CO2 is on the way to becoming a standard” – exclusive interview with Robert Hurley, Tesco

By Simon Burkel, Jul 09, 2013, 10:10 6 minute reading

At the 2013 Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Refrigeration Summit R744.com interviewed Robert Hurley, Group Engineering Standards Manager at Tesco, about the key role of natural refrigerants in achieving Tesco’s sustainability targets. Mr. Hurley stressed Tesco’s potential to use the company’s purchasing power in order to bring economies of scale to the CO2 market and turn this technology into a global solution.  

R744: How important is refrigeration within Tesco’s sustainability plan? When did Tesco’s first start looking and making its refrigeration systems more environmentally friendly? 
Bob Hurley:  Refrigeration is very important. Refrigeration emissions and energy are a key part of the climate change strategy. Refrigeration emissions for Tesco represent 13% of total emissions.
We first started looking into more environmentally friendly refrigeration technologies in 1994 when we a trialed an ammonia/glycol system. We also tested propane at our Enfield store in 1998. Then, in 2006, Tesco first committed to recording its carbon footprint and we started measuring it in all of our countries of operation, not just the UK and Western Europe, but also in Asia. This has given us the great data set so that we can assess where we are in terms of our 50% emissions reduction by 2020 target. 
R744: You said you started with ammonia and you tested propane. What made Tesco go down the CO2 road?
Bob Hurley:  We have concerns in terms of our stores and customers when it comes to using ammonia. I know there are ways that manage it safely, but CO2 for us was the right, natural solution. 
When I speak to chemical manufacturers around the world, I tell them: We aren’t closed to what you’re developing, but we need a guarantee that 10, 50, 100, or 200 years from now there isn’t going to be any kind of impact. For me there are not going to be any surprises with natural refrigerants further down the road, and we don’t have that sort of guarantee with other refrigerants. 
With modern technology we can evolve CO2 systems further. We can make them more efficient.
R744: In terms of the warm ambient climates Tesco operates in, such as Thailand, Malaysia, what has been your experience of using natural refrigerants?
Bob Hurley:  It’s going ok, we are on a learning curve. In Thailand we put in a cascade CO2 refrigeration system about 4 years ago. The team there has found that the energy efficiency isn’t as high as we wanted but designs have moved on and I am sure we can now optimize a subcritical cascade solution. Then two years ago, at our Bang Pra Carbon Zero store, we trialled a propane system which has real benefits in terms of simplicity, though of course service requires a strict procedure. The Refrigeration Manager is now a big supporter and we have just agreed to do another, larger Hypermarket project with propane. The energy demand and service calls of that system are lower than a comparable HFC, or the older CO2 system, so another project will help validate this data. 
To us it is clear there are a lot of benefits in exploring natural refrigerants. Although CO2 is our key focus I am not closed to the idea of evaluating another solution like propane overseas. 
R744: Tesco currently operates a wholesale business in Mumbai supplying products to Star Bazaar. Do you have plans to rollout natural refrigerant solution in India?
Bob Hurley: One of the things that’s really key to keep in mind when talking about refrigeration is that it is very, very challenging to install refrigeration systems of the right quality and containment in warmer climates even when it come to HFC systems. There are solutions like a plug and play solution with propane. Although there are important technical training elements that need to be covered, the installation is so much easier. With a plug-and play installation you don’t need to worry about pipework installations, or brazing that fails. No expansion valve to worry about, we use a capillary, like a domestic fridge at home. The cabinets come to store as a packaged unit and we just connect to a chilled water supply (lots of chilled water is circulated in Asia:) to deal with the rejected heat.
R744: What are your plans for future investments in CO2 globally?
Bob Hurley: At the moment we have around 150 systems, including 35 CO2 projects in Hungary and 65 in the UK. We’re looking to at least double that to 130 stores in the UK this year.
Outside the UK what we’re doing is to look at the cost model and looking at the technology that we’ve used. For example the Booster transcritical system is good model for us to use in temperate climates, also in the future in places like parts of China/Korea. 
I think we can get more efficiency out of CO2 and that’s the journey we’re on. We are also looking at using our scale for good to bring economies of scale to the CO2 market, so that we turn this technology into a global solution. I believe that is what will start to drive the market expansion elsewhere.
Of course, we also have to make sure that we get the numbers right, but that doesn’t mean we are not absolutely committed and we are always encouraging our manufacturing partners to develop new technologies.
R744: If you want to make natural refrigerants a global refrigeration solution what is the biggest challenge you face?
Bob Hurley:  So to start with let me say what isn’t a challenge: the philosophy. We are all on the same page at Tesco & CGF. 
However, one challenge is cost.  We have installed five CO2 systems in China, and the majority of those had up to a 50% cost increase. This shows our commitment despite the added costs. But, clearly that’s not a sustainable spend, so we are working hard to bring those costs down. That’s a key part of what I am looking to work on. To get that cost reduced. 
R744: Is it just a question of scaling up? 
Bob Hurley: I think if we scale up in terms of the transcritical Booster systems we can get to a parity.  It’s a journey, but I think we can get there because if you look at all of the CGF end users moving in the same direction, then from a manufacturing point of view, CO2 is on the way to becoming a standard. 
R744: Do you see a large market potential for transcritical CO2? Is this a game-changing market?
Bob Hurley:  Yes it could be. There are a lot of opportunities in China, including in terms of developing regional production of natural refrigeration systems. 
However there are tax considerations within Asia, and it may be that there’s more than one centre in Asia for manufacturing. The other challenge is capability. It’s really important that we keep growing technician capability through training, make sure that being a refrigeration engineer in Asia is a job that is valued as much as working in an office.
R744: Thank you very much!


By Simon Burkel

Jul 09, 2013, 10:10

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