Ekoplaza, a small organic-store chain in the Netherlands, has installed its first CO2 (R744) transcritical system, an integrated HVAC&R solution, with plans to convert all of its 83 stores to natural refrigerants.

With the help of a tax investment allowance, the company achieved a four-year return on investment on the premium paid on the system over an HFC system.

Ekoplaza’s story was shared by the EU-funded RefrigerantsNaturally4LIFE (RefNat4LIFE!) project, which is promoting case studies of successfully implemented natural refrigerant installations in small, organic-retail applications.

Ekoplaza (part of the Udea Group) started in 1980 as an organic neighborhood supermarket in Amsterdam. It has since grown into a retail chain with 83 stores and 39 pick-up locations throughout the Netherlands.

The CO2 installation took place at a small organic Ekoplaza store in Haarlem, the Netherlands, that covers 529m2 (5,694ft2) sales area and has six employees. In 2020, there was a need for this store to expand, and the sales area of the shop next door was added to the existing premises. This required upgrading the R404A refrigeration system to a brand new, state-of-the-art natural refrigerant (CO2) system.

Ekoplaza is an organic supermarket chain that wants to support a healthy, organic lifestyle, offering a safe haven for people who want to make sustainable choices. As such, the company doesn’t believe in simply targeting the lowest price, and values the importance of building long-lasting relationships with its customers and suppliers. “There is no profit maximization at the expense of Mother Earth,” said Geert-Jan Smits, Formula Manager, Ekoplaza.

“As a family business and organic supermarket, we feel responsible,” added Smits. “Our goal is to contribute to a healthy world together with our employees, suppliers, partners and customers.”

One of Ekoplaza’s important focuses of attention is sustainability. “The point here is that ecological systems can continue to exist thanks to climate-neutral systems which do not exhaust natural resources, said Smits. “A great goal in which we continuously investigate is how we can use resources even better, more sustainably and more efficiently.”

That’s why natural refrigerants were a strategic choice for Ekoplaza when they decided on the new cooling system. “We decided to go the natural refrigerant route because it offers a long-term, future-proof solution that is in line with the company’s sustainability goals,” explained Smits.

To further ensure that no energy is wasted, all vertical cabinets (including half-height cabinets) for the retrofitted store were bought equipped with glass doors. Hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) standards are respected at all times, too.

Integrated system

To accommodate the increased cooling demand, the aging centralized R404A refrigeration system was replaced with a brand new integrated transcritical CO2 system; it provides cooling, freezing, air conditioning and heating for the shop, as well as the butchery next door, via heat recovery channeled through four heaters.

This new centralized system (including display cabinets) was built and installed by Koning Koudetechniek, a specialized company from the Netherlands that focuses on installations using natural refrigerants. The contractor was Wieman Koelen Klimaattechniek. The system was built according to all applicable European and Dutch standards.

Thanks to the tax investment allowance, the resulting net additional investment in the CO2 system is only €12,000 (US$14,134) when compared to a traditional HFC-based system.

The electricity consumption (calculated at 95,000kWh/year) is comparable to that of the previous installation but with the new CO2 system there is no natural gas consumption for heating. This results in a saving of about €3,500 (US$4,123)/year. As such, the payback period for this new installation is only four years.

Smits acknowledged that this solution can sometimes be much more expensive than retrofitting to lower-GWP refrigerants. The cost can be a challenge for franchise partners in particular. However, the return on investment makes this upfront cost worth it, he said. 

There have been no problems whatsoever with the installation and Ekoplaza is very satisfied with the new CO2 system, noted Smits.

Although the Haarlem store is Ekoplaza’s first store running on natural refrigerants, it certainly won’t be its last, confirmed Smits. “Ekoplaza is focusing on natural refrigerants and energy savings and aims to be 100% converted to natural refrigerants in the future,” he said. However, economic factors will influence how long this process takes and it will vary depending on the store in question. “Retrofitting existing equipment and using plugins are alternative choices that have to be made per shop.”

“We decided to go the natural refrigerant route because it offers a long-term, future-proof solution that is in line with the company’s sustainability goals,”

Geet-Jan Smits

About the system:

• Sales area: 529m2/5,694ft2

• Refrigeration system: centralized transcritical CO2 system

• Electricity consumption: 95,000kWh/year

• Heating cost savings: €3,500 (US$14,134)/year

• Nominal cooling capacity = 33.4kW (9.5TR)

• Nominal freezing capacity = 4.15kW (1.2TR)

• Airconditioning capacity = 8.3kW (2.36TR)

• Nominal heating capacity (at -10°C/14°F ambient temperature) = 26kW (7.4TR)

See the Belgium Bio-Planet case study previously shared as part of this project

See the German Eekenhof case study previously shared as part of this project 

To download this and other natural refrigerant case studies, as well as related reports, visit the RefNat4Life website.

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