Cool Technologies

H-E-B is thinking green — and out of the box — when it comes to refrigeration. The company is the first U.S. retailer to deploy a propane refrigeration system in its refrigerated display cases.

The Hussmann-designed system is in place in H-E-B’s new 83,000-sq.-ft. store in Austin, Texas, which is part of the redevelopment of an old airport site in the city’s Mueller neighborhood. The entire project is focused on sustainability and energy efficiency. So is H-E-B.

“It’s just the way we operate our business. said Bill Triplett, senior VP strategic design, H-E-B. “Our vision is to move faster, save energy and be sustainable. HC refrigerants have my attention. I want to move H-E-B in a different direction away from CFCs.”

The San Antonio-based retailer had four requirements with regards to the refrigeration design: energy efficiency, simplicity in the design and install, sustainability and reliability. The goal with the project was a 70% energy reduction from all store systems, according to Charlie Wernette, director of engineering, H-E-B.

“We believe that a R290 hydrocarbon (propane) system will achieve approximately 50% energy reduction compared with our typical store refrigeration load,” he said. “In addition, we wanted to find another natural refrigerant alternative as we are not convinced that CO2 is the long-term solution for H-E-B.”

H-E-B worked with Hussmann in the development, design and installation of the alternate refrigerant source for the store. It identified the design criteria and specifications to use propane for the majority of the refrigerated display cases.

“We think this system achieves our energy and sustainability objectives,” Wernette said. “In addition, we believe that because of the design, we may realize other cost-saving benefits, such as collapsed construction cycle time resulting in our ability to get new stores on board more quickly than ever before.”

Using the propane system required that H-E-B’s cases have doors. Other than that, Triplett added, the case design is very much like the retailer’s typical case selection.

Hussmann worked closely with H-E-B and several U.S. government and safety agencies in developing the regulations and approval processes to enable the safe use of propane in a supermarket application.

Norm Street, Hussmann’s director of new technology development, believes the use of propane as a natural refrigerant alternative will gain traction with other U.S. food retailers.

“Propane is a natural refrigerant with a low GWP and is more efficient than current R404a systems,” he explained. “Most U.S. food retailers have sustainability and energy-efficiency objectives, and this system will help them achieve those goals.”

Based on the tests and analysis conducted to date, H-E-B believes that the actual sustainability and energy reductions of the propane system will far exceed any measurement used today by LEED and GreenChill. What is the chain hoping the biggest advantages of the system will be?

“A 90% reduction in the amount of refrigerant in the store,” Triplett said. “A significant reduction in long-term maintenance expense/ cost. Fewer, if any, losses due to refrigeration failures (leaks) — should a system go ‘off-line,’ only a very small amount of refrigerated product is ever affected.”