A new Coles supermarket in Glebe Hill Village, Howrah, Tasmania (Australia) is the retailer’s first retail installation to feature a completely natural refrigerant-based heating and cooling system, complete with four CO2 (R744) heat pumps from local OEM Automatic Heating, and a propane (R290) chiller from Italian manufacturer Euroklimat.

“At Coles Group, we have an ambition to become Australia’s most sustainable supermarket – and we’re always looking for opportunities to make a positive difference,” the company said in a recent LinkedIn post. “An industry-leading, and what is believed to be an Australian-first, our lowest emission sustainable low-GWP Heating & Cooling system for supermarkets has been trialed at our recently launched new Coles supermarket.”

The Coles supermarket at Glebe Hill Village opened on August 3, 2022, replacing a natural gas-powered heating system with CO2 heat pumps and swapping out the conventional, high-GWP synthetic refrigerant-based air-conditioning system for a propane-based alternative. The refrigeration system is also a transcritical CO2 system.

“This trial lowers our global GWP from [more than] 2,000 to [less than] 3 and aligns with our Together To Zero ambitions to reduce our impact on the environment across key sustainability areas including climate change, waste and hunger,” said Michael Englebright, National Engineering Store Development Manager at Coles. The Together to Zero HVAC strategy allows Coles to test and adopt technologies targeted at reducing its emissions.

The installation of CO2 heat pumps for store heating and an R290 chiller for AC is regarded as one of the first such store deployments in Australia. However, other Australian retailers – Woolworths and a Michael’s SUPA IGA store – have previously installed integrated transcritical CO2 systems that also support heating and AC.

The right solution

“The low emissions produced by CO2 heat pumps, the use of natural refrigerants, as well as the efficiencies generated equated to CO2 heat pumps as the right solution,” said Terry Plaisted, Sales Manager at Automatic Heating.

Automatic Heating’s technical team designed and built a custom-engineered skid frame to provide a heating and hot water system for the Coles Glebe Hill store. This system included four high-efficiency CO2 heat pumps and a buffer tank.

This is the sixth Coles store to date to feature CO2 heat pumps (75kW/21.3TR nominal heating capacity each) to provide sustainable store heating. There are two CO2 heat pumps at stores in Victoria Gardens (Victoria), Launceston (Tasmania), Greensborough (Victoria) and Forster (New South Wales), with four CO2 heat pumps installed at the Merrylands (New South Wales) store.

“We are very happy with the performance and meeting our store design thermal conditions,” said Englebright about the CO2 heat pumps.

The CO2 heat pump installation at Coles, Glebe Hill Village.

Expected increase in commercial uptake

“We are seeing an increase in commercial and retail interest in driving down emissions and pursuing sustainable heating and hot water solutions,” said Plaisted. “CO2 heat pumps certainly have a role to play in achieving these goals for heating and hot water.”

Plaisted notes that CO2 heat pumps require an outdoor installation, leading to a potentially larger footprint – a barrier that can be overcome. “Ensuring the right space allocation and conditions is key to the continued uptake of the technology,” he said.

Speaking about the Australian market, Plaisted commented, “We anticipate an increase in the commercial and retail uptake of CO2 heat pumps moving forward as the benefits of this technology, both from an environmental and efficiencies perspective, are realized.”

Automatic Heating has installed numerous CO2 heat pumps in the Australian market, particularly for residential applications such as the Nightingale Housing Project.

A combined approach including R290

In addition to the CO2 heat pumps and a transcritical CO2 refrigeration system, the Glebe Hill store also features a high-efficiency R290 air-cooled chiller from Italian OEM Euroklimat, complete with Frascold compressors. It is the first R290 chiller installation for a retail application for Euroklimat and is also believed to be the first such installation in Australia. (Read more about this chiller installation on Hydrocarbons21.com)

NatRefs the key to sustainability  

“Incorporating sustainable low-GWP heating and/or cooling solutions within Coles Supermarkets Blueprint will help position us to meet our 2050 HVAC targets on greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with our HVAC & Refrigeration strategies,” said Rahil Gandhi, National Engineering Manager for Coles.

In new Coles Supermarkets, the majority (more than 90%) now use natural refrigerants (predominantly transcritical CO2), according to the Coles 2022 Sustainability Report. At the end of Coles’ 2022 financial year, natural refrigerants were in use in 28 supermarkets (double that of the 14 in the 2021 financial year) and 15 Coles liquor stores (eight in the 2021 financial year). Coles operates more than 840 supermarkets and nearly 700 filling stations.

Subject to business case approval, Coles’ current project pipeline will see CO2 heat pumps, each with a 100kW/28.4TR nominal heating capacity, installed at two additional stores under its HVAC critical program, according to Englebright. One will be installed at Greenslopes (Queensland) and the other in Craigmore (South Australia).

“We are very happy with the performance and meeting our store design thermal conditions.”

Michael Englebright, Coles

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