German multinational installs ‘first’ green supermarket in China

The installation of China’s first transcritical CO2 system, a technology that has a negligible global warming potential and is energy efficient, in a METRO wholesale store in Beijing is just the first step in a journey that will see the German multinational fit these systems in all its new Chinese stores by 2025.

Alan Lin, Head of Facility Management, METRO China. (Photography by Yingwei Tao)

By Devin Yoshimoto, Jan Dusek & Yingwei Tao

It was a beautiful day in Beijing.

One week before the grand opening of METRO China’s new Beijing Lishuiqiao wholesale store in January, Accelerate China could not help but notice the clear blue skies and fresh, crisp air.

Despite Beijing’s international reputation as a city with high levels of pollution, the situation is now changing. The Chinese government is continuing its aggressive push to curb pollution and put the country on a more environmentally sustainable footing.

Industry leadership is crucially important in this regard. By installing the Chinese retail sector’s first transcritical CO2 refrigeration system, METRO China hopes to demonstrate the potential of natural refrigerant-based HVAC&R systems to bene t both businesses and the environment.

Inside the store, there was a palpable energy as employees rushed to finish last-minute preparations — stocking shelves, threading electrical wiring, and wiping down the glass doors of brand new refrigerated cabinets.

A MAJOR MILESTONE

METRO China’s parent company, Germany-based METRO AG, is a world-leading international wholesale and food retail company that has built a global reputation as a committed player in environmental protection efforts.

The Beijing store’s Island Freezer showcases

The company’s F-Gas Exit Program is widely seen as one of the most forward-thinking initiatives to phase out the use of HFCs in the world today.

In place since 2013, the F-Gas Exit Program aims to phase out f-gases in all METRO stores worldwide by 2030, replacing them with natural refrigerant systems where it is technically and economically feasible to do so.

At the inaugural ATMOsphere Asia conference, organised by Accelerate publisher shecco and held in September 2017 in Bangkok, Thailand, Olaf Schulze — METRO AG’s director of energy management — updated attendees on the programme’s progress.

“As of mid-2017, we have replaced f gas-based systems with natural refrigerant-based systems in more than 120 of our existing stores,” said Schulze.

“Additionally, every year, we are installing around 30 subcritical or transcritical CO2 systems in new stores worldwide. In China, to date, we have installed 28 subcritical CO2 systems.”

At ATMOsphere Asia, Schulze also took the opportunity to make a major announcement. “In the next few months, in the northern part of China, we will be installing the country’s very first transcritical CO2 system to be used in the retail sector,” said Schulze.

Fast-forward to today, and for the METRO China team, this rst installation of a transcritical CO2 system represents a key milestone as they continue with their f-gas phasedown.

Thus far, the company has been installing subcritical CO2 systems instead of f gas-based systems. It is now beginning to transition towards using transcritical CO2 technology as well.

2020: ‘THE END OF R22’

“2020 will be the end of R22 for us,” says Lin, METRO China’s head of facility management, who oversees the installations.

Lin explains that R22 installations are already banned in new stores and that they will be completely replaced by CO2 -based systems in 2020. “We have just nalised the designs for our cascade systems, at the end of last year,” he says.

“So this year we are continuing to go step by step towards preparing for our 2020 target with our first transcritical CO2 system,” says Lin.

“It is planned that starting in 2025, all our new stores in China will be equipped with transcritical CO2.”

PREPARING FOR TRANSCRITICAL

Preparations for METRO China’s rst transcritical CO2 system began around two years ago, when the team started an intensive internal research and discussion process.

Lin being interviewed by Accelerate China.

METRO China worked closely with colleagues at METRO headquarters in Düsseldorf, Germany to discuss and address the most important issues: the rst of which was China’s high ambient temperatures.

“In China, most urban areas have different temperature ranges,” says Lin. “Yet during summer, 80% of the cities will reach over 35°C.”

To find out whether transcritical CO2 technology would be viable in China’s climate, Lin and his team flew to Europe last year to inspect at rst hand the latest transcritical CO2 systems already in operation.

“We learned some real cases, like in Spain, where temperatures in some cities reach over 40°C,” says Lin.

“When we saw that the transcritical CO2 systems were functioning there, we thought to ourselves, ‘OK, we can go this way’, and got the con dence to move forward.”

While in Europe, Lin and his team also took the time to visit other areas and learn about the technology’s latest advancements by speaking to the facility managers directly.

“We saw the actual cases and had discussions with the maintenance contractors to ask specific questions like, ‘when exactly do they conduct maintenance?’ or ‘what are the biggest differences between transcritical CO2 systems and other systems?’” Lin says.

Gaining an initial understanding of the technology and witnessing the systems at first hand was very important during the initial planning phase, he explains.

“It was a good thing for us to rst take these past two years, with the support of our colleagues at our headquarters in Germany, to develop this understanding.”

A second issue the team faced was the lack of local maintenance service providers in China.

“This was the biggest challenge,” admits Lin.

“For system components like the compressors and condensers, it would be OK to have them imported. But we thought the cabinets were the most important things.”

Lin highlighted the example of something going wrong with the refrigerated cabinets on the sales oor.

“If something were to break in the sales area, you can’t imagine what kind of things would happen. Then if we needed to change some speci c part, we’d have to send an order to Europe and wait two months — no chance,” Lin says.

Only once the METRO China team had found the cabinets, the component suppliers, and the maintenance staff to service them within the local Chinese market did they decide to move forward.

CHINESE RETAIL’S FIRST TRANSCRITICAL CO2 SYSTEM

For this pilot transcritical CO2 project in Beijing Lishuiqiao, METRO China decided to use the simplest version of the technology currently available on the market: a transcritical CO2 booster system.

“For the rst store, we are taking the safe way. Our goal is to rst gain a better understanding of how the transcritical system works for ourselves,” says Lin.

“We’d like to find out how suitable it is to China’s environment and how it can be improved.”

The system itself consists of two separate transcritical booster racks, provided by Italy-based CO2 system manufacturer SCM Frigo.

With a total cooling capacity of 334 kW, the centralised system serves the cooling requirements of the entire store, including its fresh sales areas, freezer room, cold room, and prep room.

The installation contractor selected for the project was Shanghai Fute Refrigeration & Electrical Engineering Co., Ltd. (Fute), a locally based company with several years of experience working with CO2 systems in the Chinese market.

Commissioning was completed in December 2017, and the store celebrated its grand opening on 17 January 2018.

Key to the success of the rst six months of operation, Lin explains, is training the in-store technicians and store- operation team.

In collaboration with their suppliers and contractors, METRO China will be conducting training on a constant basis for the first two years.

“Together with SCM Frigo and Fute, we created a training programme for our store, which will consist of two parts,” says Lin.

“The first is a deep introduction to the system, for our staff, covering the basic processes needed for daily maintenance and checking,” he explains.

“Second will be an ongoing training programme that will be held consistently for the next two years to help control the system, and train not only our store technicians, but technicians from other stores as well.”

For this, Lin explains that installation contractor Fute is scheduled to remain permanently in-house.

“Training for this system cannot be a one-off. They need to understand the transcritical system, and how it is different from normal cooling systems. We need to prepare our people,” Lin says.

SET STANDARDS, REDUCE COSTS

As training gets underway, Lin and the METRO China team are now looking forward to tackling the challenges that remain.

Asked to outline the biggest challenge right now, Lin replies that initial investment costs remain a barrier. However, Lin does see them falling in the near future as more suppliers enter the market.

“Right now, initial costs [for transcritical CO2 systems] are very high compared to cascade systems,” says Lin.

“So, our ambition is that we do the rst one, let others see the potential, and that will encourage more newcomers to enter the Chinese market.”

Lin is optimistic. He has seen the number of companies supplying subcritical CO2 technology increase in recent years.

“We would like to have a list of about ve suppliers for transcritical CO2 in China, so that they can really help us roll these systems out and at the same time drive down initial investment costs,” he says.

“When these systems are available at a reasonable price level, it will encourage the wider industry to use this technology.”

Asked how quickly he expects this to happen, Lin replies: “In the next one to two years, we hope to see all of the key suppliers appear in the China market.”

In addition to reducing initial costs, the wide availability of industry standards is key to triggering more local investment and interest in new technology.

The system itself consists of two separate transcritical booster racks, provided by Italy-based CO2 system manufacturer SCM Frigo.

To foster this, METRO China is taking a very proactive stance, beginning to benchmark data from its stores.

“Right now, we are focused on gaining a more thorough understanding of the technology and gathering data, such as energy usage, temperature changes, and refrigeration usage, for business analysis,” says Lin.

With this data, METRO China hopes to lay the foundations for new industry standards. METRO China believes that the time is ripe to work with the government and key industry associations on this task.

METRO ‘GREEN STORES’

As for METRO China itself, more CO2 systems are coming.

Though exact details are not yet available, the wheels are now in motion for the next few installations of transcritical CO2 systems.

“Over the next couple of years, we are planning for several more installations of transcritical CO2 systems at both new and existing stores,” says Lin’s colleague Olaf Schulze, from METRO AG headquarters in Düsseldorf.

METRO China’s plans to achieve its sustainability goals are not limited to the refrigeration systems, of course, but encompass the entire energy pro le of each store.

“2020 will be the end of R22 for us”.
— Alan Lin, METRO China

“In terms of our overall energy strategy, refrigeration of course plays an important part,” says Lin.

“But we also plan to have more ‘green stores’ in China. These green stores will need only 50% of the usual energy demand and 40% the usual carbon emissions,” he adds.

The METRO ‘green stores’ — three of them are operating in Putuo, Jinan and Dongguan — are implementing a subcritical cooling system, closed cooling furniture, full LED (inclusive daylight usage), and smart air conditioning.

“All this reduces the electricity demand by 50%. Heat recovery will ‘produce’ the necessary heat, and the rooftop, top parking canopy and south façade photovoltaics produce electricity,” Lin says. “This is combined with an indoor energy management system, rainwater usage system, waste management system, and for our customers, AC & DC electric vehicle chargers.”

Though this is only the Chinese retail sector’s first CO2 transcritical installation, its potential to shift the future direction of one of the world’s most dynamic and in uential markets is not lost on the METRO China team.

“You know, we have to travel a lot. I’d like to see blue skies and enjoy fresh air wherever I go,” Lin reflects.

“Perhaps we have only done a very small thing. But we want this small thing to have a butterfly effect.”

“Certainly, I believe, this can be very powerful.”

For more on this and other Accelerate China stories click below: