Liquid air engines

Liquid nitrogen supplies from an LNG-assisted plant would not only be plentiful but also cheap. E4tech estimates the vehicles described above would save their owners 900 million rupees or $15 million per year net of capital costs, a near 75% saving against the diesel system, which would have cost them $20.4 million. The buildings would save 560 million rupees or almost $9 million per year, a reduction of almost a third compared to back-up refrigeration with diesel, which would cost $27 million. These savings are likely to rise in future now the Indian government has stopped subsidising the price of diesel and started to raise excise duties on transport fuel. But this would be the least of the financial benefits:

E4tech's analysis takes no account of the potential reduction in India's post-harvest food losses of $13 billion per year; nor increased export earnings; nor the economic value of reduced emissions and improved health.

The case for liquid air cold chains in developing countries is also supported by a report from Dr Lisa Kitinoja of the Postharvest Education Foundation, which found a particularly strong case for urban delivery using liquid air equipped refrigerated vans. As one example, Dr Kitinoja found that for a 1 tonne van liquid air refrigeration could be 20%-35% cheaper per kilogramme of cargo than diesel, and for a 0.5t vehicle 23%-33% cheaper (see Table 6 below).

Table 6: Estimated comparative costs for refrigerated transport in India. Source: Dr Lisa Kitinoja. 63

NCCD's clean cold vision for India

When the Government of India sanctioned the National Centre for Cold-chain Development (NCCD) as an autonomous think tank in 2012, we were expected to take a lead role in this vital sector, addressing industry concerns and providing guidance for policy-makers. A formidable task, and one I felt required a change in the way we think about cold chains.

India has an enviable cold warehousing footprint, having created almost 120 million cubic metres of cold storage space, almost 30% of this in the last decade. In contrast, we have developed only one tenth of this capacity in refrigerated transport and negligible amounts of back-end infrastructure at the farm gate. Mind you, this capacity is far from idle, and stays well occupied catering to domestic demand for potatoes, dairy products, meats and imported fruits. Yet the strategic need to use this technology as an enabler for our vast agricultural base is not fully met: clearly we need greatly to expand refrigerated transport if we are to bring seamless integration between farms and urban consumption centres.

The need to develop modern cold chains is, if anything, more important in India than elsewhere. Here growing affluence has revealed the Indian preference to spend more on fresh produce rather than processed foods. This is also evident from a more than tenfold growth in fruit and vegetable imports in the last decade. The fact is, India is the world's largest concentration of vegans, and our love for fresh food is culturally ingrained. The only technology that can deliver farm fresh food across our sub-continental distances is cold-chain.

At NCCD we frst set out to raise awareness that cold-chain is about motion, that it buys time to cover distance, to reach consumers safely and well within a product's saleable life span. Cold-chain is not about how long one can store, but about reaching the market in good time. For this reason we have recently undertaken a study to assess the capacity gap, to understand which transport and other components are needed to integrate our existing cold-chain assets.

NCCD also guided policy interventions to incentivise a move in the direction of seamless connectivity in the cold-chain. For the well-established pharmaceutical and frozen segments, we promoted efficiencies and the adoption of improved technology. For capacity building and training – which personally I feel should be company specific – we have a series of ongoing workshops, some in collaboration with Cemafroid of France and various domestic centres. Lastly we developed a set of minimum system standards which are now being implemented across the country.

I believe that it is vital we also pursue technologies that minimise the impact on the environment and health. India's existing cold-chain has the lowest Ozone Depleting and Global Warming Potential, largely because almost our entire cold warehousing is ammonia based. This is somewhat offset by the partial dependence on diesel fuelled electricity generators. Nevertheless, we aim to keep our cold-chain 'green', and given the desired exponential growth in reefer transport and village level pack-houses, we are keen to adopt technologies that will keep our carbon footprint low.

A significant worry is that conventional diesel-powered transport refrigeration emits large amounts of NOx and PM that can only worsen our air quality. NCCD is ardently pursuing the potential of clean energy from liquid air based cold-chains, easily fuelled by spare industrial capacity or by recovering stranded cold from LNG re-gasification. This last point also raises the possibility of developing ports as perishable import-export gateways in India. Currently four import terminals handle 25 million tonnes of LNG per year, and additional capacity of 115 million tonnes is planned, presenting the opportunity to recover vast amounts of waste cold. At NCCD, we aim to pioneer excellence and innovation in all areas of modern agri-logistics, not just traditional cold-chain.

Civilization has reached a tipping point where our capacity to feed our numbers is a matter of serious and increasing concern. Science has helped increase food production but all food is organic matter and most of it perishes before it can reach people. The science of delivering what we produce needs more attention: it has become imperative that mankind fully grasps and controls clean cold energy, so that our species can continue to thrive and prosper.

Pawanexh Kohli

Chief Advisor & CEO, National Centre for Cold-chain Development