Scientists launch project to tackle global 'clean cold' challenge

January 12, 2017, University of Birmingham

Scientists from the University of Birmingham have launched a major research project to investigate how 'clean cold' could help to achieve almost all of the United Nations' (UN) global Sustainable Development Goals.

The 17 'Global Goals' commit the international community to put the world to rights by 2030 - abolishing poverty and hunger; providing good healthcare and education; raising people's quality of life; and cleaning up the environment, whilst promoting .

Professor Toby Peters and colleagues at the Birmingham Energy Institute aim to work with partners in countries where demand for 'clean cold' is soaring, such as India and China. They will develop strategies using novel low-carbon and zero-emission technologies and new policy approaches.

And the roadmaps they produce could provide a global template to help meet the UN targets, as demand for cooling booms in fast growing economies - largely driven by urbanisation and emergence of an Asian Pacific middle class – predicted to rise to 3 billion by 2030 – with lifestyles built on cooling.

The report highlights many global concerns related to cooling, including:

  • The lack of adequate "cold chains" of refrigerated warehousing and transport causes two million vaccine preventable deaths each year, and the waste of 200 million tonnes of food;
  • Food wastage occupies a land area almost twice the size of Australia and consumes 250km3 of water per year - three times the volume of Lake Geneva. It also accounts for 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2, making it the third biggest emitter after the US and China;
  • Conventional refrigeration and cause 10% of global CO2 emissions – which is three times that attributed to aviation and shipping combined;
  • The global stock of room air conditioners will rise by an additional 700 million by 2030, and 1.6 billion by 2050; and
  • By the end of the century, global air conditioning will consume the equivalent of half the electricity consumed worldwide for all purposes in 2010.

Professor Toby Peters said: "Cooling is a huge problem faced by India, China and other fast-growing economies. It is all too often overlooked, but without it, supplies of food, medicine and even data break down; life in many parts of the world would be scarcely tolerable without air conditioning.

"The University of Birmingham is a world-leader in 'clean cold' expertise. We look forward to working with experts around the globe to tackle the challenge of supporting growing populations without causing environmental or societal damage.

"A huge research effort is now under way into how to realise the Global Goals and many linkages, such as economic growth and pollution are well understood. It is now becoming clear that cooling will be critical to achieving almost all the UN's Global Goals."

The report highlights that, as the world's population heads to 9 billion by mid-century - increasing projected food demand by 60% - we will need far more cooling to conserve food, water and other resources; tackle poverty, hunger, health and climate change; and underpin growth and development.

It will be vital that any new cold chain infrastructure should be clean. Diesel-powered transport refrigeration units, for example, emit not only high levels of CO2 but also huge amounts of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM).

'Clean cold' is, therefore, central to achieving the Global Goals. If food wastage could be halved through the development of clean cold chains and other measures, each year it would:

  • save enough food to feed an additional 1 billion people
  • reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5GtCO2 - more than Japan currently emits
  • conserve twice as much water as is consumed by all the homes in the US
  • avoid a massive increase in NOx and PM emissions from refrigerated transport, as the global fleet potentially quadruples in volume.

Clean cooling technologies, which can support environmentally sustainable cold chains, are being developed by entrepreneurial UK start-ups. These include Dearman's zero-emission transport refrigeration system, solar-driven cooling for pack-houses, and even small transportable ammonia-water absorption refrigeration which can be used to transport medicine.

Professor Martin Freer, Director of the Birmingham Energy Institute, said: "It is clear that we need a joined-up approach to tackle the global challenge of 'clean cold'. It is, therefore, essential to develop a roadmap to deliver a cold chain that benefits both people and environment.

"As a global 'civic' university, the University of Birmingham looks to enrich the life of both our home city and communities around the world. The Birmingham Energy Institute's partnerships with countries such as India and China will help improve their sustainable credentials, whilst improving life for their people."

Explore further: Reducing food waste, protecting the environment and creating economic growth in India through liquid air cold chains

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