Prospects for the establishment of a sustainable cold chain in India

New study emphasises the ‘here-now’ global challenge and the importance of developing more sustainable cold chains.
A new study “The prospects for liquid air cold chains in India" by Birmingham Energy Institute (BEI) emphasises that feeding 8 billion people by 2030 is the ‘here now’ global challenge and that we need to develop more sustainable cold chains. As an example, it suggests liquid-air cold chains as sustainable solutions for India.

The International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR) estimates that more than 200 million tons of perishable foods could be preserved if developing countries had cold chains as good as those found in the developed world. According to BEI, demand for food is estimated to grow by 40% by 2030. According to current trends, India would only be able to produce 59% of its own food if the current rate of productivity growth and food wastage is maintained. India’s current cold-chain capacity is tiny compared to potential demand. Less than 4% of the country’s fresh produce is transported by cold chain, compared to over 90% in the UK. The establishment of a sustainable cold chain in India could save 5.75bn euros worth of fruit and vegetables wasted annually.
A sustainable cold chain of refrigerated warehousing and transport could also benefit India’s position as the world’s third largest pharmaceutical producer. Currently, it is estimated that almost 20% of temperature sensitive healthcare products arrive damaged or degraded because of a broken cold chain, including 25% of vaccines.
Yet, demand for cooling in all its forms (air conditioning, data, industry, food and medicine) is soaring worldwide and causing ever higher emissions of greenhouse gases and toxic-air pollution.
For example, the global refrigerated transport fleet is expected to double to 9.6m vehicles by 2025, but to meet full demand of emerging markets, in particular Asia, led by China and India, it may need to quadruple to more than 18m vehicles. It is estimated that growth in global cooling in 2030 could equal three times the current electricity-generating capacity of the UK.
Pollution from cooling is also a major contributor. For example, the diesel-powered transport refrigeration unit, the workhorse of the global cold chain, consumes up to 20% of the truck’s fuel, but also emits 29 times as much particulate matter and six times as much nitrogen oxide as a modern propulsion engine.

According to BEI, one solution to this problem is to use the vast amounts of cold lost to the environment, especially during the re-gasification of liquefied natural gas. LNG is natural gas ‘packaged’ under low temperatures, which are then dispersed when the gas is ‘unpacked’. This “cold energy” can be recycled to produce cheap, low-carbon liquid air and provide zero-emission cooling and power in a wide range of static and mobile applications. Furthermore, liquid air can also be produced from ‘wrong time’ renewable energy, such as surplus wind power produced at night when demand is low.
Liquid nitrogen, which can be used in the same way as liquid air, is already widely available in India and the industry has 3,500 tonnes per day of spare production capacity. This would be enough, in principle, to cool some 17,000 refrigerated vehicles, twice the size of India’s current refrigerated truck fleet, and equal to the estimated immediate unmet demand.