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Sustainability challenges

IOR’s SIRACH networking group got together at the recent IIR Cold Chain Conference to grapple with sustainability issues. As Graeme Maidment reports, it revealed plenty of potential for change

At the 3rd IIR International Conference on the Cold Chain and Sustainability in June, the SIRACH (Sustainable Innovation in Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat pumps) networking group seized upon the opportunity to get an international perspective on sustainability issues.

Conference delegates were invited to take part in an explorative workshop, taking as its starting point the estimate that the cold chain represents about 2.5 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Thus, the impact of this industry on the environment is considerable and yet there is enormous potential for reducing it.

The workshop was a chance for delegates to take a break from listening to research papers and work together to think through some issues critical to the impact of their work.

These issues were framed as a series of questions:

  • What are the business barriers to adopting greener technologies?
  • Do we have the political will power to make change?
  • As a society, are we really prepared to make these changes?
  • What are the technical barriers to implementing change?
  • What will our world be like if we don’t meet our environmental targets for heating and cooling?

We started off with a broad selection of introductory talks exploring different, and sometimes controversial, points of view:

Natasha Hurley, global environment campaigner for the Environmental nvestigation Agency, picked up on global environmental priorities for the cold chain by focusing on the retail sector as leader in reducing emissions.

She praised the progress from retailers, commenting that “retailers are ready for change and at the forefront of efforts to move away from HFC refrigeration”. She added that the retail sector is diverse and so there is no one-size-fits-all solution for refrigeration, but she noted that indirect emissions due to energy should be seen as important as direct emissions.

Food and Drink Federation head of climate change and energy policy Stephen Reeson looked at changes in the food manufacturing sector and assessed the impact of new political developments.

He spoke about the impact of national policy on change in the UK food and drink manufacturing sector, highlighting the challenges associated with the many regulations, as well as the many potential technological solutions available.

The need to map the potential solutions to help the non-technical specialists was discussed, along with the need for better translation and communications of technologies.

Penny Dunbabin of DECC shared her insights into how government is trying to understand the market and to drive change towards more environmental practices. She noted the fact that regulation and standards for space cooling are less developed than those for heating and refrigeration. She asked if there was space for more regulation.

Demand and supply

British Gas energy manager Alastair Hotchkiss took a wider view of energy use, demand and supply limitations. He concluded that, in future, focus needs to be on managing demand and supply, as well as on the interaction between the two, via smart grids, intelligent consumption and load shedding and storage.

GEA Grenco managing director David Bostock gave a business perspective of how on an international and national level businesses are having to balance priorities including environmental policy and change.

He highlighted the importance of energy costs of refrigerant plant over the lifecycle, noting that by focusing on minimising lifecycle cost it was possible to reduce the environmental impact significantly. He called this
“doing the right thing for the wrong reasons”.

Finally, Ian Tansley, chief technical officer of Surechill – a company successfully developing innovative ‘green’ cooling technology – looked at how barriers to innovation can be overcome.

He used Surechill’s experience in developing a vaccine refrigerator as an example of where a product has been developed and commercially exploited to meet a market need. However, he noted a number of barriers to innovation, namely:

  • Insufficient clarity of vision;
  • Signals not strong enough from the market;
  • Vested interest in maintaining existing market position;
  • Risk-averse leadership;
  • Lacking the culture to make significant change.

As delegates from UK, Sweden, Norway, Germany and France discussed these issues, it became clear that there were many common themes from the different presentations – including the collective view that both direct and indirect impact of rac systems have to be further addressed.

On the plus side, it was acknowledged that rac will play an increasingly important role in reducing food waste in the future and that wider adoption of heat pumps will be key to achieving low-carbon heating needs.

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