H.E. Butt Grocery Company (H-E-B) has opened a new 83,000 sq. ft. store as part of the redevelopment of the old Austin, TX airport site. The redevelopment project, which includes retail stores and housing, focuses on sustainability and energy efficiency. Sources say H-E-B is committed to being energy efficient and conserving natural resources, and have, with this project, demonstrated a willingness to try new ideas, trends and technologies that have enabled them to be so successful in the food retail industry.

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

From the beginning of this project H-E-B had four requirements from the refrigeration design: energy efficiency, simplicity in design and installation, sustainability, and reliability. According to Charlie Wernette, director of engineering, H-E-B, “Our ultimate goal with this project is a 70% energy reduction from all the store systems. We believe that a R290 hydrocarbon (propane) system will achieve approximately 50% energy reduction compared to our typical store refrigeration load. Based on the tests and analysis we have conducted to date, we believe that the actual sustainability and energy reductions will far exceed any measurement used today by LEED and GreenChill. 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,” Wernette says.

“It's very important to H-E-B that our natural refrigerant solution meets our sustainability and lower GWP objectives, but we also want a simple design that is easy to install .... similar to your home refrigerator where it is delivered, plugged in and works for 15-20 years without having to think about it,” Wernette adds. “We think this system achieves our energy and sustainability objectives. 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.”

H-E-B and Hussmann started working together in October 2011 to identify the design criteria and specifications to use propane for a majority of the refrigerated display cases in the store. “When H-E-B approached Hussmann about wanting to use propane for the Austin Mueller store, we were very excited about working with them in the development, design and installation of this alternate refrigerant source for their store,” comments Phil Evans, senior vice president engineering, Hussmann, “Keeping in mind H-E-B’s four requirements, we have designed and engineered a propane system that will enable them to achieve their energy reduction goals while maintaining a safe, shopper friendly environment. We look forward to getting the store operational so that we can closely monitor the performance and evaluate our proof of concept with this first store," Evans says.

According to Norm Street, Hussmann’s director of new technology development, 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. This included optimizing equipment designs based on EPA limitations of 150g per system. “Hussmann’s unique and innovative methods secured timely design validation, risk assessment and approvals that met or exceeded H-E-B’s expectations. In view of the fact that we were using propane, safety was always our top priority, from the store personnel, to the customers in the store, as well as the perishables in the refrigerated display merchandisers," Street says.

He continues: "At Hussmann we understand the challenges facing food retailers today such as increased utility and energy costs, increased competition among various channels providing fresh food to consumers and the always changing shopping environment. Our goal is to provide the products, services and solutions that meet the needs of all our customers while understanding the goals and objectives they have established as key to their business success. The development of this propane refrigeration system is just one an example of having the capability and perspective to apply the right technology and solution to a customer’s application."

Tres Brown, senior vice president for North America Sales, says H-E-B wanted to set the benchmark for energy reduction and environmental responsibility in their new stores. "We at Hussmann are glad they selected us to work with them to achieve these business goals," Brown says. “This project has been an opportunity for us to bring together our engineering, innovation and technology expertise to find the right solution for this customer. We value our on-going relationship with H-E-B and have proved that by working together we can create industry-changing products and services.”