Supermarket fridges kept cool with F1 technology

A technology developed in Formula One racing could revolutionise refrigeration in the UK's supermarkets and convenience stores by drastically reducing the energy needed for cooling.

Williams Advanced Engineering – the division of Williams that commercialises Formula One derived technology – has collaborated with UK start-up Aerofoil Energy to develop a new aerodynamic device that can reduce the energy consumed by refrigerators by up to 41.5%.

Fridges contribute between 60-70% of the typical 1.5 million kWh of energy used by each of the UK’s 2,300 supermarkets, and the 116,100kWh every year by the 40,000 convenience stores in the UK. The main reason for fridges’ excessive energy consumption is their open fronts which allow cooled air to escape.

Air flow

The two companies have worked together to produce a new retrofittable aerofoil system which attaches onto each shelf to keep more of the cool air inside the fridge, based on aero flow technology used in Formula One.

Aerofoil Energy are working closely with Williams to refine the aerofoil concept, utilising Williams’ expertise in aerodynamic design and testing from Formula One racing. Williams’ Advanced Engineering division is using computational fluid dynamics to model and simulate new designs before testing them at the Williams factory in Oxfordshire.

It is estimated that supermarkets and convenience stores account for between 5% to 10% of the UK’s total energy use, so if utilised by major retailers, this new technology could significantly reduce the UK’s total energy use.

Sainsbury’s trial

Sainsbury’s, which contributes 0.5% of the UK’s energy use in total, has been testing the product at a number of stores in an effort to achieve its target of reducing absolute operational carbon emissions by 30% by 2020. However it has not yet revealed the saving currently made by the new system.

“We’re proud to be giving our fridges a turbo boost with this fantastic aerodynamic technology. Aerofoils help the airflow around Formula One cars and can improve their performance – and that’s exactly how they help the fridges in our stores, by keeping the cold air in,” Sainsbury’s PLC’s head of refrigeration John Skelton said.

“Much of our work focuses on improving energy efficiency and the collaboration with Aerofoil Energy is a perfect example of how Formula One innovations can have a tangible benefit to ordinary people and the environment,” Williams Advanced Engineering’s managing director Craig Wilson said: “This technology has global potential and the savings in operational costs and emissions are extremely promising.”

Cold economy

Cold technology is also the focus of a new report by clean cold and power technology company Dearman, which has found that the environmental challenge caused by booming global demand for cooling could be far greater than previously thought.

The report indicates that due to a rise of affluent populations, particularly in Asia, the number of refrigerated vehicles on the road could feasibly reach 15.5 million by 2025, up from less than 3 million in 2013.

It is an issue that will have critical impact in the UK due to the growing rise in online shopping and the boom in smaller convenience stores.

Dearman says that as the average diesel powered transport refrigeration unit emits up to six times as much NOx and up to 29 times as much particulate matter as a modern diesel HGV engine, if this growth is allowed to occur without the introduction of new technologies, the resulting environmental impact could be devastating.

A recent report from the Carbon Trust highlighted that this emerging cleantech ‘cold economy’ could generate 10,000 new jobs for the UK in the next ten years, and highlighted the need for UK energy policy to address the under-valued cooling sector and take advantage of the UK’s growing hub of cooling research.

Lucinda Dann

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