Evergreens leads the way with 1.9MW CO2 retail installation

By Ilana Koegelenberg with inputs from CRS
The new Evergreens Fresh Market in Kempton Park, Johannesburg is the largest independent fresh-produce retail store in the Southern Hemisphere and has selected a transcritical CO2 solution to feed an impressive 167 refrigeration points.

The 22 000m2 new Evergreens fresh market is located just off the R21 highway in Kempton Park, Johannesburg. This is the largest CO2 installation in the local commercial sector with a refrigeration capacity of 1.9MW.

The Evergreens site was built from scratch to cater to the local community who live in nearby Thembisa and also work in this predominantly warehousing and industrial businesses area. It is the only development in the area zoned for retail trading. The project was conceptualised in 2012 and started in August 2018 and was completed by the beginning of August 2019, creating jobs for about 300 to 400 people during the construction phase. There are currently about 80 people working in the completed store. This number is expected to increase significantly as the store becomes busier.
Evergreens was established 35 years ago and the original store is based in Pretoria.

All photos by: Ilana Koegelenberg

Although this store is significantly smaller than the newly built Kempton Park, Johannesburg offering, it draws an impressive 18 000 to 20 000 shoppers monthly, confirmed Evergreens senior buyer and project manager for new business, David Lopes. They expect the new store to add an ever-growing number of new loyal customers to the store, which already added some 13 000 shoppers to its loyalty programme within the two weeks of its ‘soft opening’. It is expected to reach in excess of 15 000 shoppers in the next six months (Pretoria boasts over 70 000 currently).

Evergreens is a one-stop shop and supplies fresh produce, groceries and frozen goods for both retail and bulk shoppers. It includes a butchery, a bakery and a hot foods section that they are looking to expand. There is even an onsite packaging and processing facility to deal with produce as it comes into the receiving side. Currently Evergreens takes about 30 to 40 deliveries a day.

The whole process is digitised and all products are scanned and monitored from receiving until it is sold.

The business commands high food-safety standards in all practices, and with multi-temperature refrigerated trucks to ensure the products last as long as possible. They have their own buyers where they source produce directly from the farms daily from nearly 500 different suppliers.

They are very involved and hands-on, visiting every single farm and factory before taking in their produce. They even visited the CRS workshop to make sure they are happy with the operation before agreeing to let them build the refrigeration packs.
Evergreens is very strict with regards to quality and according to Lopes, the whole aim is to keep things fresh, so you don’t have to throw away produce. There are barely bins around – only small ones. “Retail is about detail,” says Lopes. “If I can’t eat it, then my customer can’t eat it either.”

Evergreens only uses local produce as far as possible, but do source imported products such as grapes (out of season), kiwi fruit and certain other items not available or grown in South Africa.

Going CO2

Although CO2 seems like an unconventional choice for this type of installation, there has been a big push for South African retailers to go green and opt for natural refrigerants to bring local stores in line with global policy. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol continues to have a great impact on the future of refrigerants around the world, adding pressure to phase-out or phase-down towards more environmentally friendly refrigeration systems.

CRS pitched the CO2 option to Evergreens as the size of the project meant that it fell into a gap where it is large enough for it to be cheaper than a synthetic-refrigerant solution and small enough to be cheaper than ammonia. Not only was the capital expenditure less than the alternatives, but CO2 provided the benefit of being more energy efficient.

“The client was looking for a future-proof solution and after considering the environmental impact of different refrigerants and the phase-out and phase-down of greenhouse gases, they decided that CO2was the better option,” explains Maurice Robinson, director of sales and marketing at Sphere (the CRS holding company).

System description

Evergreens chose a transcritical CO2  system, with CRS supplying and installing the new racks as well as new evaporators, including a monitoring system. The refrigeration packs were all custom-built and locally manufactured at the CRS premises in Johannesburg.

The main distribution board feeds the transcritical racks and evaporator coils. All freezer rooms have hot-gas defrost. They range in temperature depending on the product, with the freezer rooms being kept at -20°C, the citrus at 2°C to 5°C, and the avocados and bananas at 14°C. This is because if it is too hot, it will ripen fruit too fast and if too cold will make the fruit go black.

The packs are cooling about 167 points, including various cold and freezer rooms, freezer and cold cabinets, and chillers.

There are night blinds on all cabinets and freezers on the shop floor to ensure no energy is wasted because of unnecessary refrigeration.

The vegetable rooms can fit an impressive 1 500 pallets and boasts 12m insulated panels from Dalucon – the largest single-mould injected panels available locally. The rooms are also equipped with Storax mobile racking from Barpro Storage that can move within an impressive 2mm from one another before a sensor automatically stops them.
Next door to the cold rooms is a forklift room to charge and service the six forklifts and the 11 ride-on jacks.

The estimated amount of heat rejection will be around 384kW and this will be used to heat water from 20°C to 55°C. Hot gas defrost has been included instead of the normal element heater that uses a lot of electricity.

“Using heat reclaim and hot-gas defrost minimises the need for electrical elements within the store set up, reducing the overall energy consumption of the fresh market,” explains Robinson.

The system comprises two refrigeration packs, each with both the medium temp and low temp circuits built in.

Refrigeration plant info:

  • Medium temperature (MT): at -5°C suction
  • Low temperature (LT): at -30°C suction
  • Full system capacity: 1.9MW
  • Heat reclaim for domestic hot water: at 55°C
  • Heat reclaim capacity: 384kW at 30 % of full capacity.

The plant was sized for future expansion with an extra 24 refrigeration points available for new cabinets.

Environmentally friendly

The phase-out of CFC and HCFC refrigerants and the unknown future of their replacement refrigerants, have led the supermarket industry having to look to alternative, long-term, future proof energy-efficient solutions. Carbon dioxide (R744) is rapidly becoming the industry choice for retail and industrial refrigerant due to its favourable environmental properties (ODP = 0, GWP = 1).

“CO2  is a low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant and an excellent choice when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” explains Robinson. CO2  provides high performance and exceptional properties for heat reclaim, due to its high heat transfer capabilities.

CO2  has excellent volumetric efficiency (more than five times the cooling effect per volume as R22), resulting in reduced compressor and pipe sizes for the same cooling effect, lower consumption ratio (the ratio between inlet and outlet pressures from the compressor), and low viscosity (making it easier to pump). COis widely available as a by-product in several industries and the cost of CO2 gas is very low. Another advantage to using a transcritical CO2 system is that it operates on only COas opposed to a cascade system that uses HFCs as well (generally R134a MT/CO2 LT).
“When looking at the natural refrigerants, COcan be used in public spaces like retail trading floors, where other natural refrigerants such as ammonia is limited,” explains Robinson.

The future

So far, the client is very happy with the refrigeration installation and how it is running, confirmed Lopes.

“The site is relatively new and therefore the plant has run for only a few months and while the initial indicators currently show good performance levels, we will continue to monitor the consumption,” said Robinson.

Future plans include adding a coffee shop above the shop floor and a 1 200m2 liquor store (which should be open by the end of the year).

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