When Hillphoenix introduced the AdvansorFlex – a smaller capacity, less costly version of its Advansor transcritical CO2 booster refrigeration system – in December 2015, the Conyers, Ga.-based OEM had in mind small-format stores as the primary end user.
Enter ALDI US, the fast-growing chain of nearly 1,700 value-oriented supermarkets in 35 U.S. states. The Batavia, Ill.-based company had already started installing Hillphoenix’s Advansor system prior to the AdvansorFlex’s release, but then switched to the smaller system.
“Hillphoenix engineered the AdvansorFlex specifically for ALDI stores, which have smaller footprints [about 20,000 sq ft],” said Aaron Sumida, an ALDI US vice president based in upstate New York. “The Advansor CO2booster system is better suited to traditional supermarkets.”
As of August 11, 2017, ALDI had deployed a transcritical CO2 system – the majority of them the AdvansorFlex – in 69 stores, with more installations coming. Hillphoenix supplied 66 of these stores, with the other three using transcritical systems provided by a partnership between Hussmann and Canadian OEM Systemes LMP. More than 10 projects so far have been in remodeled stores, and the rest of the systems were installed in new locations. In stores without CO2 refrigeration systems, ALDI currently uses R448A.
With 69 installations, ALDI is the No. 1 user of transcritical CO2 refrigeration in the U.S. supermarket industry. In North America, it’s second only to Sobeys, which has approximately 100 stores with a transcritical system.
Known for its low prices (up to 50% lower than those of traditional stores, the company says), private brands and no-frills, efficient operation, ALDI US is a 41-year-old independently operated member of Mülheim, German-based ALDI South (Süd). Facing growing competition in the U.S. from traditional grocers and other European-based retailers, ALDI has announced store development plans that are nothing if not ambitious. By the end of 2022, it expects to have nearly 2,500 stores, funded by a $3.4 billion capital investment plan, putting it third in the U.S. in store count behind Walmart and Kroger.
Earlier this year, the company announced a $1.6 billion plan to remodel and expand more than 1,300 existing U.S. stores by 2020. Remodeled stores will feature a modern design, open ceilings, natural lighting and environmentally friendly building features.
Immense impact of CO2
As a parent company, ALDI South is dedicated to international carbon emissions reduction goals, setting the tone for its group countries. “We’re committed to reducing, reusing and recycling waste, increasing energy efficiency, minimizing our carbon footprint and improving our green building standards across all of our stores and operations,” said Sumida.
In the U.S., ALDI has set a corporate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% per square meter of sales floor by 2020 compared to 2012. Rooftop solar panels on many of its stores and distribution centers represent one avenue to reduced emissions, and equipping new and remodeled stores with all-LED lighting and efficient HVAC systems is another. In addition, the potential emissions-reducing impact of installing transcritical CO2 systems “is immense,” said Sumida.
Replacing R404A, or even the lower GWP refrigerant R407A, with CO2, he pointed out, means that the warming impact of a leak is reduced by 1/3,900th or 1/1,900th respectively. “Our stores are our primary source of emissions, so this can only help us meet our goal,” he said.
ALDI US started installing transcritical CO2 systems in earnest when it entered the Southern California market in March 2016, and now uses them in new stores and major remodels in four of its 24 divisions – California, New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont), New York and Virginia.
As of August 2017, 43 of ALDI’s 69 transcritical stores had been awarded GreenChill Platinum certification by the Environmental Protection Agency’s GreenChill Partnership, with more new and remodeled transcritical stores in the process of receiving this certification. Platinum is GreenChill’s highest level of certification, achieved in this case by using a refrigerant with a GWP of under 150. In 2015, ALDI joined GreenChill, which calls on supermarket members to set emission reduction goals, report annual emissions and work to improve existing and future store refrigeration and HVAC equipment.
ALDI US has not set a deadline to fully commit to CO2 transcritical refrigeration systems, but “it’s our long-term objective to standardize,” said Sumida. With about 800 new ALDI stores to open in the U.S. by 2022, each of the company’s 24 divisions will begin to phase in CO2 transcritical systems – including the 18 not currently committed to it – “to ensure preparedness by the refrigeration installers and technicians,” he added
Why did ALDI US choose to install transcritical systems? “We genuinely believe that natural refrigerants are the best long-term solution,” said Sumida. And while ALDI US operates independently, it has also followed the example of ALDI South stores abroad, particularly in Europe. In February, ALDI South made public that the company had installed its 1,000th store with a CO2 system, representing 54% of its outlets; the U.K. division of ALDI South announced that it would convert all of its roughly 700 stores to CO2, starting with 100 by the end of 2018.
“ALDI stores in other countries also use CO2 systems as a standard and have set a strong precedent in the natural refrigerants category,” Sumida noted, adding, “ALDI in other countries serves as a resource for us. Some of the best examples for many of our environmental tests and initiatives begin with what other ALDI South group countries are doing. This collaboration across countries continues to drive results.”
An energy benefit
Sumida acknowledged that there is a 20%-30% increase in upfront cost associated with the CO2 transcritical systems compared to conventional HFC rack systems. However, ALDI anticipates a financial gain over the lifetime of the transcritical system considering “avoided refrigerant phase-outs and reduced cost of refrigerant,” he said. The company is still evaluating long-term maintenance costs and energy efficiency for transcritical, though “we’ve definitely seen an energy benefit in the cooler months.” To improve the energy efficiency of transcritical systems located in warmer climates like Southern California, ALDI employs an adiabatic condenser instead of a standard gas cooler.
In addition, as ALDI works to exceed national regulations related to refrigerant phase-outs, it expects to see additional savings from being able to avoid “increasing reporting regulations on non-natural refrigerants,” said Sumida.
Utility incentives haven’t covered any of ALDI transcritical equipment or installation costs, though the company is exploring available incentives in the divisions committed to CO2.
Like many end users of transcritical CO2 equipment, ALDI has been challenged by the shortage of refrigeration technicians trained on this technology. One resource tapped by the company is Hillphoenix’s Learning Center, which has trained at least 100 of the technicians providing service to ALDI.
Another challenge has been the availability of quality CO2 refrigerant and system components, though with further adoption of CO2 technology those items are now in greater supply.
ALDI shares its environmental accomplishments and progress in an environment section on its corporate responsibility website and on its social media channels. In Platinum certified stores, said Sumida, “We also proudly display our EPA GreenChill Certification plaque” – representing its industry leading investment in transcritical CO2refrigeration.