Exclusive: The Colruyt Group makes R290 its refrigeration standard across all Belgian stores

By hydrocarbons21.com team, Nov 26, 2015, 14:12 4 minute reading

The Belgian retailer The Colruyt Group has announced its plans to use propane for all of its 360 Belgian stores that include its Colruyt, OKay and Bio-Planet stores. The use of the environmentally friendly refrigerant will help the group reduce its emissions by 10%.

The Colruyt Group has announced plans to reduce its overall emissions by replacing their current DX-cooling systems (using primarily hydrofluorocarbon R507) with an unprecedented shift to R290 chillers in all of its stores.

hydrocarbons21.com got the scoop from Collin Bootsveld, Colruyt Group’s Project Engineer, to find out more about the landmark decision and what it means for the group and the broader commercial natural refrigerant market.

New Bio-Planet first of many propane-refrigerated stores

The new Bio-Planet officially opened yesterday in Mons, Belgium marks the first step for the Group as it cements propane as its refrigerant of choice, for all cooling requirements across all of its stores. The organic supermarket is the first of 360 stores to use the propane refrigeration system.

It is planned that by mid-2016 all new Colruyt, OKay and Bio-Planets stores will use the systems and that from 2017 onwards the old R507 systems will be gradually replaced, with the aim of having converted around 90 of their stores by 2020. After all of the old installations using R507 have been converted, the Group’s total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in Belgium will have been decreased by 10%.

R290 system combines safety, ease of installation and efficiency

Bootsveld explained that the systems used would remain similar across the chain, due to the stores’ unique and highly efficient walk-in cold rooms, which also contain refrigerated cabinets that will also be cooled by the R290 system, where most chilled items are stored. The system used to cool these rooms will be comprised of:

  • 2-4 compact chillers (cooling capacity 25kW-40kW per compact chiller)
  • Each compact chiller has one compressor

We will also use this system in order to provide free heat through utilising the waste heat from the system … Meaning we will have to use fewer fossil fuels to provide heating.

As well as the specifics of the system, Bootsveld was keen to note that the ease of installation will be just as important. The decision to use propane, while efficient and environmentally friendly, was first put to the test back in 2013 when an OKay store in Roeselare, Belgium was equipped with a propane refrigeration system. The system used 14kg of R290 and functioned reasonably well but Bootsveld lamented: “The costs to handle the safety matters were significant and in the case of a leak we would lose the stock in our shop and disappoint our customers and there would be pressure on our maintenance personnel. So we decided to look for a more plug & play approach.”

The new compact chillers, which use considerably less R290 refrigerant - between 1.4kg and 1.7kg – largely eradicate those concerns.

An important benefit is the possibility to exchange the compact chiller in case of a defect without having to work on the refrigerant side on-site. The cooling machine arrives on-site, pre-filled with refrigerant and tested in the factory. This will help in our planning to start up quickly and reliably.

Bootsveld, keen to note that safety is always the number one priority, mentioned other measures the Group undertakes including placing the propane components in a ventilated housing - which contains fitted propane detectors - where the exhaust is blown outside when either the compressor is running and/or the leak detectors detect propane. Full system control is also maintained through the Group’s control system that can be monitored remotely from their offices.

Colruyt Group regulation-proofed for the future

The Colruyt Group has always been an environmentally responsible group, going all the way back to 1999 where they began using ammonia in their central warehouses in Belgium. Bootsveld was emphatic when asked about how important the decision is to the Group’s sustainable philosophy: 

Yes absolutely. The decision was taken at the end of 2014 to switch to natural refrigerants only and to not consider any use of intermediate refrigerants like HFO’s or low GWP synthetic refrigerants.

The company-wide commitment to use R290 chillers is one that stands alone in the current European market landscape. While the refrigerant CO2 is often considered by retailers as a modern solution in the commercial refrigeration sector, Colruyt’s unique store format, it is hoped, will allow it to adopt exclusively R290 chillers. On the decision to adopt R290 instead of R744, Bootsveld praised the efficiency of CO2 for freezing but believed it has “fewer advantages for cooling”. But importantly, the bold decisions will safe-guard the Colruyt Group against any future f-gas legislation along with a growing number of retailers who are opting for natural refrigerants


By hydrocarbons21.com team (@hydrocarbons21)

Nov 26, 2015, 14:12

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