Going Super-Eco

By Jenny S. Rebholz

Photo courtesy of whole foods market


Whole Foods Market recently added to its long list of environmental initiatives with the introduction of a new refrigeration system in its Santa Clara, Calif., store, the most environmentally advanced grocery retail refrigeration system in the United States.

With California leaders looking for ways to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases, including the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigeration systems, the store’s new Hydrocarbon/CO2 Cascade system—the first of its kind—is a significant step in the right direction.

So how does it work? It uses propane, a natural refrigerant, to condense CO2—the most eco-friendly refrigerant available—with a climate impact that is thousands of times less than the typical HFCs. The CO2 is then piped through refrigeration systems to keep products cool. The use of CO2 reduces both the amount of refrigerant needed and the energy required to run refrigeration systems. A heat-reclaim system simultaneously captures the heat generated by the system and uses it to preheat
water for later use by the store.

“Our store development team was really excited to develop the design concept,” says Tristam Coffin, sustainable facilities coordinator, Northern California region, Whole Foods Market. “We then approached several manufacturers to determine who we could partner with on the final design and selected Carnot. Our engineer of record, DC Engineering, coordinated the overall system design with direction from our store development team.”

The system integrated in the Santa Clara store eliminates all direct greenhouse gas emissions from refrigeration, which means it prevents more than 7,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent that a typical supermarket emits every year. That equates to more than the entire annual electricity use of more than 1,000 homes.

“Our goal was to integrate this system in the same way we would with any other system in the store,” Coffin says. “The storytelling around the reduced climate impact of the system has really positively impacted the store and brought a lot of excitement to our team members. The direct impacts of the reduced energy usage, as well as the reduced Global Warming Potential (GWP) of the refrigerants in the system, are something we’re all really proud of and excited to share.”

According to Coffin, Whole Foods Market plans on evaluating performance of the system compared to other state-of-the-art low GWP systems they’ve implemented in similar climate zones, and determining the future direction from there.

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