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Walmart refrigeration head outlines retail vision based on reduced refrigerant and packaged solutions

Richard Royal calls for packaged refrigeration solutions instead of bespoke systems as US retailers looks for reduced refrigerant charge and leakage, simpler systems and simplified processes

Richard Royal, Walmart’s senior design manager for refrigeration, has set out a vision for retailers based on increasingly packaged equipment, closer collaboration with the supply chain and integrated controls systems. Speaking at the International Institute of Refrigeration’s conference on sustainability and the cold chain, Mr Royal told delegates that everything he and fellow retail members of US body Ashrae are doing stems from a desire to improve the efficiency of the business through simplification -  ‘but simple like a Smartphone, not like a hammer’.

One of the key ways of reducing carbon emissions, Mr Royal said, was to reduce direct emissions by significantly reducing refrigerant charge. “We can really impact direct emissions positively,” he said, “We believe charge reduction will be one of the single biggest issues for us, together with leak reduction.”

Mr Royal outlined a three pronged direct emissions reduction strategy for retailers: reducing charge size; reducing leakage; and transitioning to lower GWP-refrigerants. Walmart has reduced its charge size from 180 kg of R404A to around 113 kg for new systems, he said, and the retailer is in advanced trials with a refrigerant manufacturer over installation of low-GWP fluids that when implemented would see an average 68 per cent reduction in GWP over the original R404A estate. Reducing the charge will see increased use of secondary refrigeration systems as well as other new, as-yet undisclosed, technology.

As far as indirect emissions are concerned, the Ashrae retailers are targeting efficient design; proper commissioning; and effective maintenance. There are a number of projects underway to reduce energy, ranging from installing doors on chiller cabinets on both a new and retrofit basis – with a more radical programme than many UK retailers – to more use of LED and solar PV.

He added that there are some real opportunities for retailers to improve emissions by taking a more radical approach to the technology in use. The current approach of building a bespoke refrigeration system for every store (which thanks to its bespoke nature generally doesn’t have its specific documentation), could be replaced, he contended, with packaged systems that would provide a more standardised, intuitive approach, store by store. The additional advantages could include easily-benchmarked energy ratings, minimal design co-ordination and plug and play electrical and pipework connections.

“We have packaged equipment for the HVAC. The question is: Can we broaden it out to include the refrigeration, integrating the controls; air cooled condensers and pumps, and pre-charged with refrigerant?”

Another major benefit of the packaged approach would be the ability to reduce leakage, he noted.

“National average leak rates for HVAC are 2 per cent, but for refrigeration it’s nearer 12 per cent. We can bring that nearer to the 2 per cent with a packaged system because of the factory assembly.”

He said that meeting the future challenges would depend on a combination of good personnel and dedicated equipment: “The industry needs people with the vision, strategy and energy to meet the changing needs. And supermarkets need a low cost, packaged refrigeration system, to provide an integrated alternative to today’s custom-built systems.”

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