Sainsbury’s takes “seismic leap” with naturally refrigerated trucks

British supermarket chain Sainsbury's has ramped up its attempts to curb transport emissions after becoming the first company in the world to incorporate "closed-loop" natural refrigerant trailer units for its delivery vehicles.

As part of a three-year technology field trial with cold technology specialist Carrier Transicold, Sainsbury’s will soon use specialised truck units that incorporate a closed-loop system using only CO2 in their refrigeration cycle.

Even though CO2 is regarded as a common pollutant, it has a global warming potential measurement of just one, making it a more sustainable refrigerant than commonly-used trichlorofluoromethanes, such as freon-11 and CFC-11 as well as ammonia and propane.

“We’re thrilled to be working closely with Carrier Transicold as they spearhead this innovation,” Sainsbury’s operations support manager Gary King said. “The beauty of Carrier Transicold’s prototype trailer unit is it delivers a massive reduction in F-Gases by using natural refrigerant.

“This will directly help us achieve our ambitious environmental and sustainability goals, whilst delivering a seismic leap forward in terms of sustainability within the cold chain.”

The first unit of three is expected to arrive later this year and will be used for everyday Sainsbury’s store deliveries. The ‘NaturaLINE’ prototype was purchased outright after a successful trial period that started in 2013. During the previous trials, Sainsbury’s operated with a modified “road version” refrigeration system for ocean containers.

“Delivering the first dedicated natural refrigerant trailer prototype into service marks a huge milestone in the development of over-the-road refrigeration using CO2,” Carrier Transicold’s president Davis Appel said.

“Our ultimate vision is to see temperature-controlled units running on natural refrigerant in mainstream production. Today, with the support of one of our largest European customers, we are one step closer.”

Sustainability on ice

The new units are the latest in a line of sustainability initiatives that Sainsbury’s has introduced into its refrigeration cycle. Last year, the retailer utilised ground-source heating technology by collecting the warmth from the back of its refrigerators to heat up its stores – cutting energy use by more than 30%.

The company – which contributes around 1% of the UK’s total energy use – has also been trialling a Formula One derived technology which can potentially reduce the energy consumed by refrigerators by up to 41.5%.

Researchers have urged the UK Government to establish a lead department dedicated to developing new clean-cold technology, after the ‘Doing Cold Smarter’ report warned that current poor standards of cold storage – combined with a worldwide increase in demand – will raise GHG emissions by more than 1.5 billion tonnes a year within 15 years.

The report also claimed that a lack of adequate cooling systems has led to two million preventable deaths each year, as well as leading to the loss of 200 million tonnes of perishable food in developing markets.

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Matt Mace

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