An ice reservoir for the logistics centre of the future

The Embraport freight centre is being renovated in line with the fast-changing demands on logistics. Located between Zurich and Winterthur, the site with a footprint of some 160,000 square metres is to become a showcase project for sustainability in logistics over the next few years – with features that include a huge ice reservoir.

The enormous concrete structure in the middle of the Embraport’s various warehouses with an excavation pit that is almost perfectly round catches the eye even from a distance. The people engaging in lively conversation on the edge of the giant construction seem almost tiny. These people include Basler & Hofmann’s Federico Mazzolini, Head of Building Services, and Hubert Mom, Senior Expert Building Services. They and their team planned the concrete edifice and are coordinating the construction work. The colossal structure is actually a huge ice reservoir. In future, it will supply a portion of the warehouse buildings with sustainable heating and refrigeration. “Today is an important day here at the construction site: We will be checking whether the concrete shell of the ice reservoir is watertight,” explains Federico Mazzolini, who is visibly tense. In the meantime, one of the workers descends through a hole in the ceiling into the interior of the concrete building.

At the Embraport site, Zürcher Freilager AG rents out space totalling 132,500 square metres. Some 60 per cent of the rental space is located in buildings that are more than 40 years old. These will only meet future market requirements in part. This prompted Zürcher Freilager AG to develop a comprehensive strategy for renovation of the Embraport, which will be successively implemented until 2024. The alteration and extension of Building B between 2020 and 2021 will be the first of a total of four major stages. Basler & Hofmann is responsible for overall project management and for the planning work in the areas of energy, building services and automation, structural physics, building contaminants, sewerage and transport.

Ice generates heat

A special focus of the renovation is on energy: the vision is to enable future operation of the warehouses on a basis that is as CO2-neutral as possible, which raised the demands on the overall energy concept. The ice reservoir plays an important role in this. “The ice reservoir we are standing on will eventually be buried under the ground. Its interior will be filled with water and equipped with spirals of various lines. In the winter, a heat pump will draw heat from the water until it freezes. The water changing its state from liquid to solid generates an enormous amount of energy, which can be used for heating. During the summer months, heat is fed into the ice reservoir from the warehouses, from the ground and from solar thermal energy systems on the roofs of the buildings. The melting of the ice generates cooling energy that can be used for refrigeration – bringing it all full cycle,” Federico Mazzolini explains. “A week ago, we filled the concrete cistern with water up to a height of one metre. Our colleague down there in the ice reservoir is now checking whether the water is still at the same level. If not, it would mean that the concrete shell is not watertight. We’re eagerly awaiting the results,” Hubert Mom adds.

Surprise demands unconventional solution

Right at the beginning of the construction work for the ice reservoir, the project team encountered an unpleasant surprise: During excavation of the foundation pit, communication cables came to light which, according to the land register, were supposed to be located to the right of the planned pit. Everything indicated that the lines would have to be rerouted in a second excavation. An unconventional solution spared the client and the team this additional effort and expense. “The red crane component lying on its side over there is serving as a sort of bridge for the lines. Like they say: necessity is the mother of invention,” Federico Mazzolini explains.

Sophisticated building services

While the leak testing of the ice reservoir continues outside, Federico Mazzolini and Hubert Mom together get an overview of the ongoing work in Building B. The warehouse was built in 1976 and is slated to be transformed into a modern bonded warehouse in the first phase of the site renovation. To this end, the existing building will be remodelled, an additional floor will be put on top, and new storage space will be added on one corner. The two Basler & Hofmann experts take a look at the building services model of the warehouse on a tablet. “The project is complex and incredibly exciting at the same time. It is necessary for the building and its operations to comply with customs regulations. There are a variety of different climate zones for the stored goods, which increases the demands on the building’s air-conditioning system and security,” Federico Mazzolini says.

When they arrive outside again, the result of the leak test is available: the water level in the ice reservoir is the same as a week ago, meaning that the concrete cistern is watertight. Federico Mazzolini takes another walk around the cistern, checking one last time to see if he can visually identify any leaks. Thankfully, it passes inspection, and the construction work can continue as planned. The ice reservoir is scheduled to begin operating next spring.


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