Doing Cold Chain Better
December 3, 2014
Scott Bleggi, Bread for the World Institute & Eric Trachtenberg, McLarty Associates
Much of the food currently produced never reaches a human stomach since global losses amount to some 40% of all calories produced. Food is lost because of poor handling and inadequate infrastructure, or is discarded in the marketplace or home. These “post-harvest losses” of perishable fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and dairy are estimated by McKinsey to be worth $252 billion per year. This waste reduces food security, degrades food safety, cuts farm incomes, reduces access to nutritious foods, and raises prices for consumers. All told, waste greatly deepens poverty.
One promising way to cut waste by building a “cold chain” of temperature controlled vehicles and warehouses that reduce spoilage and quality degradation by chilling and freezing products. Despite the pressing need to handle perishable products better, we still depend on old technologies. However, there is a way to “do cold better” says Toby Peters, founder and Senior Group Managing Director, Dearman Engines.
The world needs cooling – air conditioning, industrial cooling, data cooling, medical cooling as well as a ‘cold chain’ of refrigerated food storage and transport – and global demand is expected to grow significantly. India alone projects it needs to spend more than $15 billion on its cold chain over the next five years. China had 250 million cubic feet of refrigerated storage capacity in 2007; by 2017, it is on track to have 20 times that. The US and Europe are all seeing double-digit growth. In fact, global projected growth to 2030 for cooling equates to three times the total power output of Brazil.
Yet cold is the “Cinderella” of the environmental debate. Almost every country has energy policies covering power, transport and heat, but cold demands are simply embedded in final energy uses statistics. Given existing environmental and economic challenges, it is critical that the primary energy demands for providing cold do not grow at the same rate as cold demand itself.
Promising opportunities for changing the way we meet and think about meeting cold needs are beginning to emerge. There are significant volumes of wasted cold – cold packaging of imported LNG and bulk cryogenic gases and so-called coolth generated in gas let-down stations are examples. These inefficient sources and other “wrong-time energy” (wasted or stored just as power to be converted later into cold) will continue to grow with demand from agriculture, storing and warehousing.
Dearman is designing and developing sustainable and clean solutions for transport and off-grid cooling and power needs that make it especially well-suited to supporting and expanding a renewable energy-driven cold chain.Dearman’s proprietary technologies include zero-emission transport refrigeration units; high efficiency hybrid engines that harness low grade waste-heat; zero-emission power-trains for off-highway applications such as mining, where the exhaust of clean cold air is a major advantage; and larger MW-sized distributed power and cooling (e.g. air conditioning) units to work alongside renewables and displace diesel generation sets.
The core technology is the Dearman engine – a novel piston engine whose “fuel” is liquid air, which is increasingly recognized as a powerful new energy vector. Liquid air stores “wrong time” energy such as off-peak wind power as both power and cold. This gives it two bangs for one buck. It has about the same energy density as an advanced battery in terms of stored power or mechanical work, but also stores two thirds of its energy as cold on top, making it an ideal form of energy storage wherever there is a need for cooling as well as power.
Within the cold debate, the Dearman engine and liquid air is the new piece of the jigsaw, allowing “waste cold” to be economically stored, moved and used as packets of energy. It allows integration of waste cold resources and cold needs. By allowing “cold and power” to be moved as needed, opportunities for integration, efficiency improvement, and additional benefits emerge.
Benefits of a Cold Energy System (Cold Economy) include environmental, societal and economic benefits, lower costs and as with any new industry – new business opportunities. This is especially true in developing country agricultural sectors where food waste is endemic.
Director, Food & Agriculture