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Melinda’s Underground Warehouses

Today, in the heart of the mountains under the roots of the trees where they have grown, Melinda apples have a natural storing place. The only place like this in the world.

Inside the abandoned Dolomite caves of Rio Maggiore Mine, Melinda has created an underground-refrigerated storage system for its apples, the only one in the world. Melinda apples are stored in a hypogeal (i.e. underground) environment at controlled atmosphere, with a stable temperature in every

season. We are talking about a natural refrigerator hidden inside the Dolomite Mountains. An eco-friendly system that keeps Melinda apples fresh without damaging their quality.

An immense and evocative underground warehouse

You must not imagine damp and dark caves with narrow slippery paths. Watch the video and discover a fascinating world made of underground galleries and cells, where technology and nature cooperate at their best for the well-being of our apples and of the environment too.

300 meters under the apple tree roots, in Dolomite rock caves. Today you can find 34 cells for the refrigerated storage of our apples. «These “hypogeal cells” allow to store at least 30,000 tons of fruit, and in a short time we plan to add more storage space for an extra 10,000 tons», explains Franco Paoli, Melinda production and conservation manager. «We calculated a power saving, vs. epigeal storage (i.e. above ground) of approximately 1.9 GW/h, which more or less equals to the power consumption of 2000 people per year. What about the quality of the apples stored underground? They are better than the ones stored above ground », he assures us.

How we created the underground house for our apples

The first thing you must know is that apple-farming in Non and Sole Valleys is growing from year to year. This happens because we are constantly improving our cultivation techniques and not because we are increasing the area of land used for apple-farming. The higher the yield, the more apples we have to store.

We needed to find a solution. We could have taken an obvious decision: build more warehouses, as big as soccer fields. Melinda instead, in agreement with Tassullo, company specialized in construction materials, found an extraordinary alternative. They decided to reuse the galleries created by their partner’s mining activity. In the years, they have drilled 90,000 m3 of dolomite – the rock of the Dolomite Mountains – all for construction purposes.

We created 34 cells inside these abandoned galleries. Every cell is 25 m long, 11 m high and 12 m wide, and can contain approximately 3000 bins of apples, 300 kg per bin for an overall total of 1,000 tons of apples.

Gas-tightness is guaranteed by the rock’s structure and by a thin layer of sprayed concrete, while thermal insulation is given by the rock mass. In one or two years, once the rock around the cells cools off for the first 5-7 m, this layer will serve as thermal insulation for the cells themselves.

The cells are all provided with the most advanced technical and safety equipment, such as external CO₂  absorbers, which eliminate the CO₂ exceeding the ideal level for the storage of the apples and standard requirements of carbon dioxide in the air. The cells can be opened only when the green light is on.

A new conservation method, thousands of years old

Melinda’s hypogeal cells (this is their technical name) are located inside the Rio Maggiore mine at 900 m from the entrance of the caves, at 575 m above sea level and 275 m under the land where our first apple orchards were planted. We created the first and only in the world, refrigerating-conservation system in hypogeal environment with a controlled atmosphere. A natural refrigerator that respects the environment while preserving the original quality of Melinda apples.

Today, this revolutionary conservation method contributes in a substantial way to the preservation of our environment, thanks to:

  • less power consumption (which means less CO₂ emissions in the atmosphere)
  • a strong water saving, as a consequence of the geothermal cooling system used for the compressors;
  • the elimination of insulation panels in polyurethane foam, therefore eliminating the problem of their disposal;
  • the preservation of the landscape and agricultural territory, avoiding the construction of new warehouses,
  • the optimization of an existing but abandoned mine, which otherwise would have remained unused.

Awards

Good Energy Award 2015

The Hypogeal Cells Project by Melinda received the Bernoni Grant Thornton award for the Italian companies that have invested in energy saving projects supporting the environment, the economy and the territory.

Sodalitas Social Award 2015

The Hypogeal Cells Project by Melinda was the winner of the 13th edition of the Sodalitas Social Award for the best project in the category “Third industrial revolution and new production systems”. This is the most renowned Italian award for companies and organizations that wish to take the leadership in the creation of a sustainable future, implementing effective projects promoting growth, development and inclusive practices.