Dutch retailer Albert Heijn is aiming to become CO2-neutral by 2025. At the heart of its strategy are plans to become HFC-free. Accelerate Europe investigates.
The company boasts 950 supermarkets across the Netherlands and Belgium. It also counts the Etos drugstore and Gall & Gall, a beverage vendor, among its store portfolio. “We’re looking at an HFC phase-down. That’s the main route we’re following – and making our installations a little bit better every day,” Vincent van Dijk, a store-engineering consultant for the Dutch retailer, told Accelerate Europe.
His colleague Alfard Clerc – senior manager (store engineering) in Albert Heijn’s Real Estate & Construction department – nods. “We have a strong focus on how we’re going to develop or change our chemical refrigerants to natural refrigerant CO2 installations. We have a very clear goal there – we’re aiming to make that shift over time,” he says.
Albert Heijn is part of Ahold Delhaize group, a global supermarket giant with 22 market-leading local brands. Together, the group accounts for over 6,500 stores serving more than 50 million customers per week, in 11 countries around the world. Ahold merged with Belgian retailer Delhaize in July 2016 to create a new group with a combined workforce of over 375,000 associates.
CO2 transcritical for all new and remodelled stores
Since 2015, Albert Heijn’s policy is to fit all new and remodelled stores with fully CO2 transcritical installations. As an intermediate step, the company installed 350 hybrid CO2-HFC systems between 2010 and 2015, while the first pilot fully CO2 transcritical store opened in 2012.
“First of all we are a supermarket – we create stores for our customers to buy groceries. We also have an ambition to do the right thing. Here at Albert Heijn, we say, ‘Do a little bit better every day’. Making the shift to CO2 refrigeration is very obvious for us,” Clerc says.
Fast forward to 2017, and Albert Heijn has 110 CO2 transcritical stores (including franchises) – about 10% of its total store portfolio. It is currently remodelling stores to CO2 transcritical systems at a rate of 60-80 per year.
“We’re looking at an HFC phase-down. That’s the main route we’re following – and making our installations a little bit better every day.”Vincent van Dijk, store engineering consultant, Albert Heijn
Matching CO2 systems
In adopting natural refrigerant systems, total cost of ownership (TCO) and life-cycle climate performance (LCCP) are important considerations for Albert Heijn. “We have the ambition to work faster, but it’s also about cost. The remodelling sequence is about 10 years, so that’s a very important consideration in speeding up towards going completely CO 2-neutral,” van Dijk says.
Albert Heijn’s standard stores are fitted with matching CO2 systems regardless of location, keeping investment costs down. “We try to put the same installation and the same components in every store. The capacity can differ. But the standard installation is the same in all the stores,” Clerc says.
Between 2009 and the end of 2015, Albert Heijn reduced overall CO2 emissions per square metre from 420m3 to 245m 3, a decrease of 42%. By 2015, refrigerant leakage had decreased by 48% compared to 2010, equalling 4.3% of the total installed based compared to 8.3% in 2010.
Cooling for the wall-mounted cabinets and in-store climate comes from the CO2 rack – even in smaller ‘AH to go’ convenience stores. “This is possible because our stores contain a lot of cabinets, so we have more heating that we can use for the climate inside the stores too,” van Dijk says.
For flexibility, Albert Heijn also uses stand-alone plug-in propane units to display certain products. Its distribution centres are cooled by a combination of ammonia and brine. “Always natural refrigerants,” says van Dijk with a smile.
“We have a strong focus on how we’re going to develop or change our chemical refrigerants to natural refrigerant CO2 installations. We have a very clear goal there – we’re aiming to make that shift over time.”Alfard Clerc, senior manager (store engineering), Albert Heijn
Why adopt natural refrigerants?
What is the main motivation for adopting natural refrigerants? First and foremost, Clerc says, “the drive came from Albert Heijn itself”. The company wanted to become greener and more efficient.
Politics plays a role too. The European Union’s new F-Gas Regulation, which entered into force in 2015, aims to reduce HFCs by 79% by 2030. “The HFC phase-down was an alarm bell that we have to start innovating. It is an important motivation,” says Clerc.
Yet switching to natural refrigerants is a no-brainer for him regardless of the evolving policy landscape. “It’s about doing the right thing. It’s also about saving energy, and saving money,” he says.
To read the full version this story in the spring edition of Accelerate Europe, click here .