A progressive new refrigeration system that promises to boost cooling performance while being kinder to the environment is making its debut in the UK produce sector this winter. Luisa Cheshire reports
In leafy Worcestershire, pioneering work in ‘greener’ refrigeration is afoot. Nationwide Produce – a leading fruit and veg supplier in the UK – has commissioned Europe’s largest known installation of a new ‘sustainable’ cooling system at its storage and distribution facilities in Evesham.
‘Project Super Green’ is part and parcel of a massive £3.5 million extension at Nationwide Produce Evesham, due for completion by November 2022, which will more than double the depot’s size (from 14,000sqft to 38,000sqft) and effect a four-fold increase in its storage capacity (from around 450 pallets to 1,600) across five separate temperature-controlled chambers.
Each chamber will be cooled by up to three bespoke refrigeration units (ensuring constant back-up) that will use cutting-edge refrigerant R454A – said to offer an 83 per cent reduction in global warming potential (GWP) compared to the industry standard (R449A). This new refrigerant-kit combo, known as A2L, is also expected to improve cooling performance and increase energy efficiency by up to 15 per cent respectively.
“This ‘greener’ refrigerant is one of the latest refrigerant blends to be developed, very few manufactured systems have been to designed to run on it, those that have are for small duty applications, this bespoke and PED approved system for Nationwide is the largest application in the UK,” reveals Matt Dolphin, Director of SK Heating and Cooling (SK), the Gloucester-based refrigeration specialists behind the design, installation and maintenance of Nationwide Evesham’s new refrigerated facilities.
Nationwide Produce and SK are 18 months ahead of the curve in terms of embracing new and more sustainable refrigeration systems within the UK food industry. SK is a company who specialize installing, servicing, and maintaining refrigeration system, says Dolphin, Nationwide Produce is the first to commission an A2L project of this scale. “We are setting an industry benchmark to embrace a greener future,” he says, “and we look forward to more produce companies following suit.”
Indeed, SK is now also working on a similar project for another fresh produce company on the same Evesham business park. “The food industry has a fantastic opportunity to look at making a positive impact on our environment by adopting the latest innovation in systems for improved energy efficiency,” says Dolphin.
Refrigeration isn’t known for being ‘green’, Dolphin concedes, SK Cooling’s founding managing director, Simon Kershaw, is passionate about reducing the sector’s environmental impact with the benefit to reduce running operational costs. “There is no Planet B, actively challenging the status quo to offer our clients all possible options is crucial to ensure they can make an informed decision about the best solution for them, and in line with their business ethics.” says Kershaw.
It was SK Cooling’s sustainable focus that caught Nationwide Produce’s attention when planning its Evesham extension, explains Scott Hollins, MD of Nationwide Produce Evesham. “Our two businesses have a really similar ethos, and that is really important when you are partnering with a company on a project of this size.” he says. “It was important to us that SK Cooling are sustainable and have the same values as us. Because we, too, are doing our best to future-proof all areas of our business by being greener.”
Once Nationwide Evesham’s new extension is fully operational, the company will then replace the current refrigeration system in the original Nationwide Evesham building with SK Cooling’s A2L model. In addition, the company will ‘max out’ Nationwide Evesham’s solar panel system in order to generate 50 per cent of the depot’s energy needs. In August 2022, Nationwide Produce also invested in the biggest solar system possible for the Vitaal Evesham site to further reduce our carbon footprint.
Elsewhere in the group, solar panels supply around one-third of the electricity consumption at Nationwide Produce’s production facility in Long Sutton, Lincolnshire. While 100 per cent of the energy the group buys in from outside comes from renewable sources, Scott Hollins reveals.
Nationwide Produce’s sustainability efforts don’t just begin and end with energy, Scott Hollins adds. For the last two years, any surplus produce left over at Nationwide Evesham has been diverted to FareShare for meal redistribution. At the same time, any food waste unfit for human consumption is packed off to a local anaerobic digestion plant where it is transformed into fertiliser and renewable energy, he says.
“We are doing as much as we can to be renewable and sustainable,” says Scott Hollins. “And our Nationwide Evesham extension represents a huge leap forward on this journey. The scale of the refrigeration system overhaul is impressive. The project in its entirety is the largest known food installation of its kind in Europe.”