As our planet becomes more and more populated, we’ll need to increase food production drastically, by around 70% by 2050. And as the Earth gets hotter, it is of vital importance to minimize post-harvest losses and manage the cold chain in an energy-efficient and planet-friendly way. Here’s how Bidfood Horeca Service, a leading foodservice wholesaler, has prepared for the future with a brand-new ammonia-based refrigeration system at their facilities in Beringen (Belgium). We had a chat with Bidfood Technical Manager Luc Gielen and GEA Belgium Sales Engineer Tom Bressinck.

Cold storage is an essential link in the cold chain. How important is managing the temperature of perishable goods for Bidfood Horeca Service?

Bidfood Horeca Service

Luc Gielen: “That’s simple. It’s at the very heart of our operations. From our site in Beringen, Bidfood Horeca Service – which is part of Bidfood and the international group Bidcorp – currently supplies hotels, restaurants, stores, bakeries, gas stations, and other businesses in many parts of Flanders with a wide range of food products. Maintaining quality and safety from the point of origin to our customers is absolutely essential.”

Bidfood was planning to double its cooling and freezing capacity at its Beringen site. Both the fresh chain, kept at temperatures typically ranging from 2 - 12°C, and the frozen chain, where the temperature is maintained at –22°C, required considerable expansion. What were your KPIs for this project?

Luc Gielen: “First, sustainability. Having a Lean and Green award means that sustainability is the norm for Bidfood, so we wanted to do everything possible to minimize our impact on the environment. But efficient energy use was also a priority. We had a clear goal: we wanted to recoup the extra investment over and above the initially planned budget by lowering energy consumption.”

That sounds ambitious. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Luc Gielen: “When I joined Bidfood Belgium as Technical Manager in September 2018, there were already plans to significantly expand the existing cooling and freezing capacity at the Beringen site. Initially, the idea was that the existing system would be retained and only the extension would be new. This meant that the existing system using synthetic refrigerants (R134a and R404A) would keep operating, while the extension would use more environmentally friendly or alternative refrigerants. However, these plans were not entirely consistent with Bidfood’s green ambitions. We therefore set our sights high: we wanted a completely new sustainable refrigeration system based on natural refrigerants that would pay for itself over time.”

How did you know this would be feasible?

Luc Gielen: “I’ve been in the refrigeration business for 40 years. If you’re investing, do it well and think it through. Look at least 20 years ahead, not just 10. So that’s why we conducted a further study, based on a brand-new cooling system using natural refrigerants. This showed that installing a new system would enable us to double the size of the freezer area from 2,000 m2 and expand cold storage by approximately 1,100 m² without increasing our energy consumption. In other words, a 50% improvement in efficiency!”

How did you decide on GEA?

GEA Grasso compressors

Luc Gielen: “We were looking for the right partner to help us fine-tune and implement the project. And once again we set the bar high: we wanted to work with genuine specialists who know everything about refrigeration technology and who would push themselves as hard as we did. I had years of experience with GEA Grasso compressors, which are still the industry benchmark to this day. And now, GEA Grasso is still a great brand that produces reliable products. So that’s how we decided on GEA Refrigeration Technologies, which has a skilled workforce with great technical expertise and contracting experience.”

You insisted on working with ammonia, a natural refrigerant. Why is that?

Luc Gielen: “We were determined to avoid using synthetic refrigerants. There was no question that we would switch to ammonia, which to me is the gold standard. Its global warming potential is zero.”

Tom Bressinck: “I can only echo that. GEA has been in the refrigeration business for more than a century. We know the advantages of ammonia inside out, but we’re also well aware there are aspects that need to be considered when working with it. The impact on global warming is zero, whereas with synthetic refrigerants it’s nothing short of disastrous. I graduated with a degree in environmental engineering in 1999. Acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer, global warming – I’ve seen us tackle them all and I still firmly believe that we can make a difference by using our technological expertise. And we must make that difference. There’s absolutely no doubt about that.”

What solution did GEA offer?

Luc Gielen: “A very energy-efficient one. If you’re designing a system, there are so many tiny details that determine what the end result (i.e. energy consumption) will be. You have to have the full picture. You really need to know exactly what you’re doing and work with people who question every idea so that, together, you can take everything to the next level. You can always take a more short-term view and perhaps go for a cheaper system with a shorter service life and much lower energy efficiency. But that’s not the Bidfood way. And that’s why we opted for GEA and its well-designed refrigeration system based on highly efficient V-series reciprocating compressors for ammonia.”

Tom Bressinck: “We delivered and installed the whole refrigeration plant in this project. Besides the energy-efficient cooling part, there’s also a sustainable heat recovery system. The ammonia absorber in the plant rejects its heat into a common condensing system, which enables recovery for both underfloor heating and defrost. This considerably reduces other associated waste streams, fan and pump power.”

GEA customized refrigeration plant installed at Bidfood
GEA customized refrigeration plant installed at Bidfood

Did you have a good working relationship?

Luc Gielen and Tom Bressinck

Luc Gielen: “I really appreciated the fact that Tom was my single point of contact throughout the project, but also that he could enlist the help of colleagues if other, highly specialized technical knowledge was needed. I’m delighted that we were able to accomplish this together.”

Tom Bressinck: “It was a great experience working with Luc on this project. He’s a highly professional refrigeration expert. We listened very carefully to his requirements and ambitions and brought our expertise to the table so that we could make well-informed decisions together. We helped put together the as-built documentation and prepared the worksite thoroughly on the basis of detailed drawings, plans and calculations. And the result is very satisfying. At GEA, we engineer for a better world, not just for industry and our customers.”

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