Self-styled as ‘Europe’s most sustainable supermarket’, Dutch retailer Albert Heijn’s brand new store in Purmerend uses natural refrigerants CO2 and propane for its cooling needs. Accelerate Europe visited the superstore – located just north of Amsterdam – to find out what makes its HVAC&R setup so special.

CO2 rack provides cooling and air conditioning

“The rack does all the cooling and the air conditioning. Above it, you also have absorption machines for the in-store air conditioning,” said Vincent van Dijk, a store-engineering consultant for the Dutch retailer.

The rack is a CO2 transcritical booster system with parallel compression (Bitzer). It is one of only a handful in Europe to use ejectors (Danfoss). An adiabatic gas and a dry-cooler on the roof complement the rack. The 6K evaporators alone deliver energy savings of 10% compared to the previous cabinets. The addition of the evaporators and design of the cabinets are the result of intensive collaboration with partners.

The rack was prepared in advance. Upon arrival on site, it simply required dropping in and connecting to the piping before it was ready to work.

The Purmerend store is 100% CO2-neutral. 50% of the energy used in the Albert Heijn XL, Etos drugstoe and Gall & Gall beverage vendor on site is provided by a combination of 700 solar panels (on the roof and sides of the building) and a combined heat and power (CHP) plant in the car park.

The CHP is fired by biogas and provides in-store heating and electricity. “It’s very special. Normally we wouldn’t have any electricity production. When you get electricity from the grid, you lose more than 60% in distribution. With the CHP, you only lose 11%,” van Dijk explained.

“We’ve looked around Europe to see if there are comparable supermarkets – we don’t think there are any.

Vincent van Dijk, Albert Heijn

Harnessing heat storage

The store is fitted with phase-change equipment for heat storage. “When we have too much heat, we store it. When we need heat, we take it out and put it back into the CO2 transcritical system. Underground, we store the cold. This is all managed remotely from the centre of the Netherlands,” he added.

Albert Heijn’s use of fully closable refrigerator doors saves 25% of electricity for cooling purposes. Smarter design of the fixed cabinets in Purmerend delivers another 10% saving on top of that.

What led Albert Heijn to describe the Purmerend store as Europe’s most sustainable? “It’s our own assessment based on the technology we’ve put inside the store. We’ve put a lot of new innovations into it,” van Dijk said.

He is confident that Purmerend has no equal in terms of sustainability and reducing CO2 emissions. “We’ve looked around Europe to see if there are comparable supermarkets – we don’t think there are any.”

For Albert Heijn, claiming to have built Europe’s most sustainable supermarket is a massive step. “Normally we’d hold back a little bit. We’d say, ‘OK, we have to do this, because it’s in the genes of our company to do a little better every day,” van Dijk said. “But in Purmerend, we did so many innovations that for this store, we said, ‘let’s make that call’.”

“It’s a combination of producing energy, buffering the storage, and the energy savings that we’re making with the refrigeration installation. Nobody else in Europe is making installations in this combination. This is why we can make that call,” he further explained.

All the fun of the playground

Alfard Clerc – the senior manager (store engineering) in Albert Heijn’s Real Estate & Construction department – stressed that this Albert Heijn XL store is very much a pilot for new ideas. “This is really a playground. It’s the best spot to do it, because we can try everything here,” he said.

“Here it’s about learning what’s happening with our innovations. If we do a normal remodelling, then we use another format for our current new store template,” Clerc said.

“In Purmerend, we have certain innovations that we want to use, like biogas. But in a normal remodelling – the other stores which are fully CO2 – we don’t use gas,” he explained.

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,” van Dijk proudly declared.

Albert Heijn chose Purmerend as the location to pilot all these ideas in February 2016. By November, it was ready to close the previous store. The new one opened just 10 days later.

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