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Supermarkets shop for natural refrigerants

In the wake of a rise in awareness about sustainable refrigeration in the food retailing sector, supermarkets have begun to increasingly advocate the use of natural refrigerants. Eurammon tracks the trend.

| | Sep 30, 2011 | 5:31 pm
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In the wake of a rise in awareness about sustainable refrigeration in the food retailing sector, supermarkets have begun to increasingly advocate the use of natural refrigerants. Eurammon tracks the trend.


For a long time now, consumers have not only been factoring in the quality and price when making purchases, but have also been giving a serious thought to sustainability. In the results of a study conducted throughout Germany by IBH Retail Consultants published in December 2010, 60% of those interviewed indicated that their purchase decisions have also recently started to take into account the extent to which companies implement the increasing demand in general for a sustainable approach to everyday business practice. Supermarket chains are no exception, and have started opting for environment-friendly shop concepts with lower emission rates in their stores to reduce their carbon footprint.


It is an established fact that refrigeration systems account for a large share of energy consumption in the food retailing sector. Possibilities for taking a sustainable approach include, among others, the choice of a particular refrigerant as against others. “Depending on the local conditions, today, it is possible to develop an individual solution with natural refrigerants for every supermarket,” confirms Mark Bulmer, member of the Board at Eurammon, the European initiative for natural refrigerants. “Natural refrigerants, such as ammonia and CO2 are used for supermarket refrigeration all over the world. In fact, there are two good reasons working in their favour: firstly, they have no or only negligible global warming potential. And secondly, supermarket refrigerating systems with natural refrigerants are energy efficient in operation.”

The type of system suitable for any particular supermarket depends, among other factors, upon its geographical location and the prevailing climatic conditions on site. Outside temperatures warmer than 26°C prevent liquefaction of carbon dioxide because the refrigerant temperature on the high-pressure side is above the critical temperature. Such trans-critical CO2 solutions, therefore, tend to be used in moderate climate zones, such as Canada, Scandinavia or Central Europe, Bulmer explains. He says: “Ammonia-CO2 cascade systems, on the other hand, constitute a suitable possibility for environment-friendly, efficient refrigeration in warmer regions. Ammonia is deemed to be the most energy-efficient refrigerant of them all.”


In 2010, SSP Kälteplaner AG developed a completely new refrigerating system for the Migros Supermarket in the Tivoli shopping centre in Spreitenbach, Switzerland, which is now in use. The refrigerating solution covers all the requirements of a supermarket refrigeration system, while taking into account the optimum consideration of the general local conditions with regard to capital expenditure and energy demand.

This is how it works: The new system consists of two 150-kilowatt combined units for chilling and a 53-kilowatt booster combined unit for freezing. Altogether eight Bitzer reciprocating compressors are used for chilling, with another four Bitzer reciprocating compressors in the booster-combined unit. Direct evaporation of the environment-friendly natural refrigerant CO2 is responsible for refrigeration distribution in chilling and freezing. Both systems operate in the sub-critical range whenever possible. Under high outside temperatures or when waste heat is called for, the combined chilling units operate in the supercritical range with a working pressure of up to 92 bar.

Additional energy savings are achieved by heat recovery. A heat pump uses the waste heat of the system to provide hot process water and heat for the supermarket and for an adjoining restaurant. The remaining residual heat is discharged outside via a gas cooler/condenser on the roof.


At present, many supermarket refrigeration systems in South Africa still use refrigerants with a high global warming potential (GWP) and in some cases, even a high ozone depletion potential (ODP). The use of natural refrigerants in supermarkets is still relatively unknown in South Africa, and has, therefore, hardly been tested. However, in view of the constant increase in energy costs of more than 20% per annum in some cases, a number of South African supermarkets have decided to change over to natural refrigerants.

In 2009, for instance, the GEA Group provided various supermarkets in South Africa with compressors for NH3-CO2 cascade systems. This is how it works: A solution of Ammonia and a glycol is used in the chilling range to keep the dairy and delicatessen cabinets and refrigerated warehouses at temperatures between 0 and +2°C. The deep-freeze circuit operates on the basis of direct CO2 evaporation for the frozen food and ice cream displays. In addition, the waste heat from the ammonia system is recovered to save energy in the process of heating water for the supermarket.

Various Grasso compressors generate the refrigerating capacity of the ammonia circuits in various supermarkets, reaching levels between 285 and 860 kilowatts. Furthermore, one particular supermarket uses part of the compressor to feed a cold water storage tank for air conditioning of the premises. To this end, a glycol loop freezes water balls in a storage tank. Outside peak times, all compressors work with the same suction capacity so that free capacities from the supermarket’s refrigerating circuit can be fed to the air conditioning system.

“Operators no longer have to revert to fluorinated greenhouse gases for supermarket refrigeration,” says Bulmer. “Applications with natural refrigerants offer a good alternative. Thanks to intensive research and development in recent years, natural refrigerants permit energy-efficient operation today in many areas. Depending on the service life, the marginally higher investment in the systems can be recuperated by lower overheads, thanks to reduced energy costs and less expenditure on refrigerants.”


Ammonia (NH3)
Ammonia has been successfully used as a refrigerant in industrial refrigeration plants for over 100 years. It is a colourless gas, liquefies under pressure, and has a pungent odour. In coolant technology, ammonia is known as R 717 (R = Refrigerant) and is synthetically produced for use in refrigeration. Ammonia has no ozone depletion potential (ODP = 0) and no direct global warming potential (GWP = 0). Thanks to its high energy efficiency, its contribution to the indirect global warming potential is also low. Ammonia is flammable. However, its ignition energy is 50 times higher than that of natural gas, and ammonia will not burn without a supporting flame. Due to the high affinity of ammonia for atmospheric humidity, it is rated as “hardly flammable.” Ammonia is toxic, but has a characteristic, sharp smell, which gives a warning below concentrations of 3 mg/m³ ammonia in air possible. This means that ammonia is evident at levels far below those which endanger health (>1,750 mg/m³). Furthermore, ammonia is lighter than air, and therefore, rises quickly.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)
Carbon dioxide is known in refrigeration technology as R 744 and has a long history extending back to the mid-19th century. It is a colourless gas that liquefies under pressure, with a slightly acidic odour and taste. Carbon dioxide has no ozone depletion potential (ODP = 0) and negligible direct global warming potential (GWP = 1) when used as a refrigerant in closed cycles. It is non-flammable, chemically inert and heavier than air. Carbon dioxide has a narcotic and asphyxiating effect only in high concentrations. Carbon dioxide occurs naturally in abundance.

Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP)
The ozone layer is damaged by the catalytic action of chlorine and bromine in compounds, which reduce ozone to oxygen when exposed to UV light at low temperatures. The Ozone Depleting Potential (ODP) of a compound is shown as an R11 equivalent (ODP of R11 = 1).

Global Warming Potential (GWP)
The greenhouse effect arises from the capacity of materials in the atmosphere to reflect the heat emitted by the Earth back on to the Earth. The direct Global Warming Potential (GWP) of a compound is shown as a CO2 equivalent (GWP of a CO2 molecule = 1).


Eurammon is a joint European initiative of companies, institutions and individuals who advocate an increased use of natural refrigerants. As a knowledge pool for the use of natural refrigerants in refrigeration engineering, the initiative sees as its mandate the creation of a platform for information- sharing and the promotion of public awareness and acceptance of natural refrigerants.

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