Haryana ties up with Birmingham on novel cold chain technologies

by Toby Peters

Against the backdrop of a pact between the University of Birmingham and Haryana government, a senior academic explains the vast scope of collaborations in the area of cold chains for food transportation.

Following the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the state government of Haryana earlier this year, at the University of Birmingham through our India Institute, we are working in partnership with Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation.

The partnership also extends to the National Centre for Coldchain Development, the government of India’s taskforce on cold chain, and industry and academic partners to kick-start a programme to advance the use of novel UK and Indian technology to help meet rising demand for cold chains, sustainably. In so doing, we can open up a new $100-billion market to UK researchers and technology companies – clean cold chain.

It is hard to overstate the importance of the cold chain – an integrated and seamless network of refrigerated and temperature-controlled pack houses, distribution hubs and vehicles used to maintain the safety, quality and quantity of food, while moving it swiftly from farm gate to consumption centre.

The government of India has put forth substantial emphasis on doubling farmers’ income by 2022. In India, 30-50 per cent of food can be lost post-harvest primarily because of lack of cold chain. We cannot address rural poverty without cold chains extending the life of crops and connecting farmers to markets. A seamless cold chain won’t just reduce post-harvest food loss, but also allow farmers to earn more by maintaining the quality of their produce and selling it further afield.

India and the wider world is also moving away from traditional food security towards nutritional security – it’s no longer just about filling tummies, but strengthening bodies. The per capita demand for food grains is slowing down, while high nutrition foods like dairy, fruits, vegetables, fish and meats are on the rise. Consumption of high nutrition foods in India is expected to touch half a billion tons by 2030. Connecting the supply of such foods with consumers requires a ‘cold-chain’.

The opportunity is to connect local farming clusters with higher-value market options nationally – and even internationally – through integrated end-to-end cold chains. The challenge though is to expand cold chain capacity quickly, affordably and with minimal pollution and environmental impact. Established cold chain technologies are available; the challenge is that in nearly all cases in markets like India they are reliant on diesel for both transport refrigeration and off-grid power. They also use high GWP refrigerants.

In short, we must transition from no cold chain to clean and sustainable cooling.  We must not replace a social crisis with an environmental catastrophe. Cooling is energy intensive and globally already accounts for twice the CO2 impact of aviation and maritime … combined.  Without intervention, cooling energy demand is projected to grow 5x by 2050 if we meet global need.

As Pawanexh Kohli, CEO of the National Centre for Cold Chain Development, says: “Feeding the planet is not just the business of farmers. Refrigerated logistics is critical to managing our food resources, expanding market frontiers and reducing food loss.

“At the same time, we also need to reduce the impact of our logistics on our environment, and that requires international collaboration. We need innovation today, to develop the sustainable cold chain of tomorrow.”

As we migrate from fossil fuels to renewables, we need new approaches which recognise the portfolio of available resources including free and waste cold and heat. And we have to design the novel finance and business models required to create economically sustainable systems for the subsistence farmer.

The objective of this trail-blazer collaboration is the co-design, implementation and demonstration of frameworks for the provision and accelerated roll-out of fit-for-market, end-to-end, clean and sustainable post-harvest food cold chains that are attractive to end-users, civil society, governments, policy makers, industry and the finance community to ensure impact, lasting legacy and scalability.

The first output of the programme is to develop an “open source” methodology to enable rural communities to identify their specific food logistics cooling needs and match “fit for market” and “fit for finance” bundles of low carbon technologies with appropriate business models to deliver robust, clean end to end cold chains. The second output is to deploy a series of “Living Labs” to demonstrate innovative and integrated solutions for integrated cold chain solutions.

However, this is the only the beginning. Cold chains can also allow subsistence farmers to expand into higher value, responding to market demand – ‘fork to field’, rather than ‘field to fork’ – as well as transition to perishable horticultural crops rather than remain tied to the lower margin staples. The really entrepreneurial farmer or farming co-operative can move right up the value chain by developing processing and food products. In short, access to cold and cold chains can turn subsistence farming into agri- businesses.

Cold chains are an essential contributor to prosperity building and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  But most subsistence farmers have little if any experience of any kind of cold chain, still less of novel clean cold chain technologies or new logistics technologies and systems, and will not adopt them before they have been shown to work well and cost-effectively.

To deliver impact, the chain must be demonstrated to prove it can provide producers with a clean, sustainable, fast and resilient system for moving produce from field to point of consumption whilst at the same time enabling them to capture more value; the flow of money back to the farmer. Demonstration should therefore include the new opportunities offered by “mobile money” and blockchain for trading.

And we need to validate the cost basis and envelope into which new technologies must be deployed, and develop the awareness, skills and financing that will accelerate end to end solutions to market.

We have brought together a coalition of partners from the technology innovators, academic, public, financiers, for profit and not-for-profit sectors to work together to accelerate system level solutions to market by filling the critical gap in understanding, designing and demonstrating multi-sector, multi-technology, multi energy source integrated end to end approaches to clean and sustainable cold chains to deliver – and balance – maximum social economic, and environmental impact.

But this is also a major market opportunity. The US International Trade Administration Experts estimated that India has less than half the cold chain capacity necessary to meet its current needs and will require as much as $100 billion of infrastructure investment over coming years. In their market report, they specifically identified that “opportunities may exist for cold chain operators that can create or utilize technologies that reduce dependence on the electricity grid. Energy infrastructure is extremely lacking and serves as a huge impediment to integrating cold chain capabilities across the supply chain.”

The UK is creating a world-leading position in clean, low carbon/non-electric cooling technologies and energy system design both with its research institutes, service providers and technology companies.  This project will deliver unique demonstration platforms in-country with robust business models and key in-country partners from which to accelerate market deployment of the key agriculture infrastructure to address the lack of integration with multiple markets that limit business models sustainably. It will help monetise the output of farmers to capture optimal value and mobilise farmers into enterprises… without adding to pollution or climate change.

Not a bad day’s work for a fridge.

Professor Toby Peters is the Professor in Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham and a Fellow of the University’s Institute for Global Innovation. He is also a Senior Research Fellow in Transformational Innovation for Sustainability at Heriot-Watt University and Chair of the Academic Mirror Group, CoolingEU.

2020-09-21T08:45:16+00:00October 26th, 2018|2017/2018, Home Page, UK Edition – October 2018|

About the Author: Toby Peters