Antoine Magré, Director of the Ville-la-Grand E.Leclerc.
Antoine Magré, Director of the Ville-la-Grand E.Leclerc. Photo credit: Novum.

An E.Leclerc in France Is Helping Novum Make the Claim That Its R290 Cabinets Are ‘the Only Viable Alternative to CO2 Systems’

The Ville-la-Grand Leclerc serves as the Irish OEM’s real-world showroom for its LEAP lineup of propane chest freezers and cabinets.

To shoppers at the bustling E.Leclerc hypermarket in the small French town of Ville-la-Grand, located on the Swiss border near Geneva, April 11 was just another spring day. However, for the leadership team at Irish commercial refrigerator manufacturer Novum, which was walking through the frozen and refrigerated food sections, the day was anything but ordinary.

Novum’s leadership team, including its CEO, CTO, CMO and Head of Sales, had gathered at the Ville-la-Grand Leclerc to celebrate a major milestone: the grand opening of what is, in effect, a real-world European showroom for its self-contained LEAP lineup of propane (R290) freezers and refrigerators. The Irish OEM’s leadership team was joined by affiliated contractors, distributors and the store’s director, Antoine Magré. NaturalRefrigerants.com was also on hand for the event.

Although the ribbon-cutting ceremony was scheduled for April, Novum’s real-world showroom actually opened in mid-January when 30 of its Grand Cayman chest freezers, 184 doors’ worth of Panama Green cabinets and five end-of-aisle displays were installed. All of the store’s chest freezers and 30% of its refrigerated cabinets are now served by Novum’s LEAP lineup, according to CTO Eoin Lennon. Of those cabinets, 80% contain refrigerated food, and 20% contain frozen food.

It’s an impressive display of product, though for Novum it’s not merely the number of units but what they’ve accomplished, specifically the cabinets, that’s notable. The 184 doors of self-contained upright cabinets installed at the Ville-la-Grand Leclerc replaced 30% of the remote CO2 (R744) units, which also were split 80/20 between refrigerated and frozen food.

Novum R290 cabinets in a frozen food aisle at the Ville-la-Grand E.Leclerc.
Novum R290 cabinets in a frozen food aisle at the Ville-la-Grand E.Leclerc. Photo credit: NaturalRefrigerants.com

“We haven’t had this before, somebody moving to LEAP technology from a CO2 system,” Novum CEO Jim Greene told NaturalRefrigerants.com. “That’s taking it to another level. This is a first for us.”

Novum bills LEAP as “the only viable, scalable alternative to CO2 systems,” and the Ville-la-Grand Leclerc is its opportunity to show supermarket owners that’s more than a marketing slogan.

Taking the LEAP 

Magré was very interested in finding alternatives to CO2 for his store. He told NaturalRefrigerants.com that maintenance on the store’s CO2 refrigeration system – which was installed in 2017 – was “a major issue.” 

“We wanted something easier to use that we could manage with our internal capabilities and not be too dependent on the companies that service the remote systems,” Magré said. “They’re struggling with staffing issues, which is a general theme across France.”

Novum’s LEAP cabinets and chest freezers use the same hermetically self-contained cassettes consisting of a compressor, condenser, evaporator and evaporator fan. The cassette is located at the base of the chest freezers and on top of the upright refrigerators, which are available in two- and three-door configurations, with each door utilizing a separate cassette.

The cassettes of the Panama Green upright cabinets.
The cassettes on top of Novum’s R290 cabinets. Photo credit: NaturalRefrigerants.com

Each cassette comes pre-charged with 65g (2.3oz) of R290, and maintenance consists of swapping out one cassette for another.

Along with simpler servicing, the store has also seen its energy consumption dip since installing Novum’s LEAP cabinets and freezers. Magré told NaturalRefrigerants.com that the store’s energy consumption has been reduced by 15% since Novum’s products were installed in mid-January. Per Novum, that represents a 45% reduction in refrigeration energy consumption.

Energy savings 

Magré noted that the reduction in energy consumption can partially be owed to the fact that, unlike the refrigerated CO2 cabinets they replaced, Novum’s cabinets come equipped with doors.

Novum’s CTO concurred with that assessment, saying that the energy level “per door” of Novum’s cabinets is “class leading.” However, he further highlighted that addition by subtraction is also at play. 

“By replacing 30% of [Magré’s] chilled product cabinets with ours, he has taken that load off the CO2 plant,” Lennon said. “Less of [the CO2 compressors] are running on average than previously. As a result I believe he’s staying within the subcritical point more often. That’s making his CO2 refrigeration more efficient.”

Novum’s upright cabinets release heat directly into the store, and given this, it’s fair to wonder if the Ville-la-Grand Leclerc will see a rebound in energy consumption during the summer months. According to Lennon, the efficiency of the Novum LEAP line means that its freezers and cabinets won’t require the air-conditioning to be cranked up in summer.

“Simple physics comes into play here: energy in equals energy out,” said Lennon. “The more efficient you make a cabinet, the less heat energy it puts out.”

“There are no big heat emissions, which was one of our major worries,” Magré added.

According to Novum, its cabinets have a third of the heat rejection and energy consumption of similarly sized cabinets, and its chest freezer has 37% less heat rejection compared to its “next best-in-class competitor.”

Novum CTO Eoin Lennon
Novum CTO Eoin Lennon. Photo credit: NaturalRefrigerants.com

“It’s a combination of things,” said Lennon. “It’s the defrost, the evaporator location [outside of the main unit] and the airflow system design. The entire body of the cabinet is formed as one piece, so there’s no thermal bridging, and the doorframe technology reduces rail heating requirements.”

Lennon said that Novum also has a deep relationship with its controller provider, which has enabled the company to work with it to design bespoke controllers for the LEAP lineup to further optimize its energy efficiency.

Rumors vs. reality 

While the Ville-la-Grand Leclerc shows what Novum’s LEAP lineup is capable of, the company faces an uphill battle in convincing end users that its products can be an alternative to CO2 refrigeration systems. Self-contained R290 cabinets are not uncommon in Europe and are becoming more common in the United States, but they’re viewed as solutions for stores with smaller footprints, not hypermarkets.

Magré alluded to this, telling NaturalRefrigerants.com that he heard “rumors” in the “supermarket world” and from cooler-cabinet companies about problems moving from remote to self-contained cabinets.

“A lot of [cooler companies] came to see us and said, ‘Why did you do this? This is a major mistake,’” said Magré. “I think a lot of them are stuck on past issues, like those with electrical systems, which have been long resolved. We didn’t make a mistake, and we’re seeing this today.”

“We haven’t had this before, somebody moving to LEAP technology from a CO2 system. That’s taking it to another level. This is a first for us.”

Jim Greene, Novum CEO

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