Shops, bars, hotels, and restaurants go the extra mile to serve patrons icy cans, crisp beers, and subtly chilled wines. Yet, the relentless pursuit of drink service excellence exacts a toll, demanding a significant investment of water and energy in the refrigeration process.

Retail trade body, the British Retail Consortium has been advising retailers on how to cut emissions from refrigeration for several years, as part of its Roadmap to net zero targets.

Innovation is urgently needed. Conducted with backing from the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, a research initiative revealed that supermarket retail refrigeration systems contribute to 30% to 60% of the energy consumption in these establishments.

Moreover, certain refrigerants within these systems act as greenhouse gases, contributing to heat retention in the atmosphere. Approximately two-thirds of the environmental impact of refrigeration is attributed to electricity usage, while refrigerants make up the remainder. As of 2020, refrigeration was responsible for nearly 8% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

So, how can this be reined in, saving costs and the enormous amounts of water and energy currently being used for drinks chilling worldwide?

More responsible refrigeration

One notable advancement is the increased adoption of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly refrigerants. Traditional refrigerants like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are potent greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change. In response to this, newer refrigerants with lower global warming potential (GWP) have been introduced, helping establishments comply with stricter environmental regulations.

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Furthermore, the retail and hospitality industries are increasingly embracing intelligent refrigeration systems, which not only excel in energy management but also contribute to a diminished environmental footprint. For example, Aldi has tested an all-electric refrigerated trailer.

These systems harness the power of sensors, data analytics, and automation to finely tune cooling processes. To illustrate, smart controllers dynamically adjust temperature settings in response to real-time demand, guaranteeing that refrigeration units operate precisely when needed.

A warm welcome to rapid chilling

The latest ‘rapid chilling’ technology takes this a step further. It employs advanced cooling mechanisms in small units, that chill beverages in a fraction of the time required by conventional methods, as and when needed.

By significantly reducing the duration of refrigeration, establishments can cut their energy consumption, resulting in lower utility bills and a direct, positive impact, both on the bottom line, and Scope 1 GHG emissions.

Additional benefits are that fewer chiller cabinets are needed, while more space is freed up in off licences, convenience stores, supermarkets, pubs and restaurants, which could be more profitably utilised.

Tailored beverage chilling

Unlike traditional systems that often operate at a constant temperature, rapid chilling technology adapts to the specific cooling requirements of each bottle or can, improving the customer experience, while optimising energy usage and minimising waste.

A quality Sauvignon Blanc will need to be served at a different temperature to a can of cider, for instance. Rapid chill units can also help store staff become more efficient and streamline their processes – able to chill on demand according to customer preferences, and in line with real-time demand. With a small rapid-cooling unit, wine, beer, soft drinks, and mixers can be chilled to order, and to individual taste.

Smaller, smarter units on site

Revolutionary high-speed cooling solutions being patented today harness ground-breaking technology. One innovation in drink-chilling is to deploy a ‘Rankine vortex’ within a small unit. This is a mathematical model of a vortex in a viscous fluid. Drinks are placed in a unique gripper and subjected to ‘forced convection,’ as opposed to the natural convection of existing equipment. This system also eliminates the need for commonly-used chemicals and glycol, adding to the environmental benefits.

Less refrigeration means lower overheads

Britain suffered a net decline of 4,593 licensed premises in the year to March 2023, according to the Hospitality Market Monitor. Although the rate of closures has since slowed, there’s no denying businesses in retail and hospitality are being pushed to the limits, and all the economic indicators suggest 2024 is going to be challenging.

Forward-thinking retail and hospitality businesses are already embracing eco-friendly refrigeration solutions. Recognising the dual benefits of cost-efficient business operations, and positive environmental impact, they are paving the way to serving drinks at the perfect temperature, while protecting the planet.

About the author: Craig Hall is director of technology company V-Tex.