The defining challenge of the 21stcentury will be meeting the food demands of an increasing human population undergoing substantial demographic change, while reducing environmental degradation and risk as well as global tensions over basic resources such as water, energy and land. Reducing food wastage to a minimum while simultaneously improving agricultural yields, applying clean technologies and increasing the efficiency of resource utilisation offers the route to a successful human outcome for all. Cold chains are an essential component in establishing an efficient food supply chain and are critical to development in both emerging economies and the rapidly industrialising nations. However, the current cold chain deployment model uses fossil fuel based infrastructure that is unsustainable and often completely absent in the developing world. A unique opportunity exists to instigate a cleantech leapfrog to a more sustainable model in these economies, which are also where the bulk of21stcentury population growth and demographic change is projected to take place. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers therefore makes the following key recommendations:
Governments of newly emerging and rapidly industrialising economies must prioritise support investment in cold chain infrastructure to improve food security, underpin development and help alleviate poverty. Providing farmers with opportunities to access higher-value market options for their produce is widely recognised as a key route to moving individuals and communities out of subsistence and poverty towards higher-level economic activity and increased well-being. For perishable produce, cold chain infrastructure is essential to ensuring that as much product as possible reaches the marketplace. Beyond this, encouraging and incentivising developments that are based on sustainable solutions, including renewable energy and clean technologies, offer opportunities for affordable routes to energy security and reduced environmental risk.
Donor country governments and development NGOs must support and incentivise aid recipients to develop sustainable cold chains using renewable energy and waste cold. Increasingly overseas aid from donor governments and NGOs is being allocated to development projects that help individuals and communities become more self-sufficient and resilient. A sustainable cold chain solution based on renewable energy, clean technologies and waste cold recycling should be encouraged and incentivised.
The UK engineering community should come together to define in detail the potential opportunities a joined-up cold economy presents for the developed and developing world. The UK has a substantial heritage in the industrial gases and broader cryogenics sectors. As a leader in the field of the industrial application of cold, as well as in renewable energy utilisation, clean technologies and energy systems integration for efficient resource use, the nation is well placed to lead on work to tackle the technical challenge of equipment scaling and explore the environmental and societal benefits of establishing cold-chain economies.