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Solar cold-chain potential to be focus of global research partnership

Academics and specialists will look at new approaches for sustainable cooling solutions and policy that will fully or partially make use of solar power in ‘sun-rich’ countries

A partnership between the University of Birmingham and over two dozen countries that are part of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) will focus on providing new approaches to chilled food distribution.

Both solar and solar-hybrid solutions will be the focus of research to support new approaches for introducing cooling and cold chain solutions running on the renewable resource in ‘sun-rich’ countries. This is intended to help support the global agricultural sector to be more efficient and sustainable.

The Solar Cooling Initiative (I-SCI) will look at the applications for solar-powered cooling in the tropics to aid economies such as India, Egypt and Brazil to limit food waste and ensure an anticipated surge in demand for cold chain technologies is viable.

The National Centre for Cold-chain Development (NCCD), which has been partnering with the University of Birmingham to run ‘clean cold’ project and events, will also support the work.

Efficient cold-chain networks can limit loss of up to 40 per cent of perishable produce during transportation to customers, researchers on the project estimate.

However, the typically energy intensive nature of these vital cooling systems is hoped to be mitigated through looking at where solar powered technologies may be viable for farmers and food producers.

A statement on the project said that global greenhouse gas emissions linked to food loss and waste were estimated at 4.4 giga ton eCO2 annually.

Professor Toby Peters, a specialist in the cold economy and clean cold policy at the University of Birmingham said that the project built on work in trying to ensure the food supply was more sustainable and secure around the world.

He said this was a vital challenge both in terms of food security, combating malnutrition and ensuring financial viability for farmers in a variety of different economies.

Professor Peters added, “Cold-chains can be an essential contributor to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.”

“But with rapid urbanisation, this presents a big challenge. How do you create the local and global, temperature controlled ‘field to fork’ connectivity to feed 10bn people sustainably from hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers whose livelihoods and well-being are often dependent on only one to two hectares, as well as ensuring they are climate change adaptation ready and resilient - all without using fossil fuels?”

“Our work with the new International Solar Alliance Solar cooling initiative will set out to answer this big and urgent challenge.”

Upendra Tripathy, director general of the ISA, said that the project was intended to support potentially millions of farmers to link up with cold-chain systems that are fully or partially powered through solar.

He said, “This project will align with the ISA’s first programme, ‘Scaling Solar for Applications in the Agricultural Use’. It is noteworthy that 28 countries have joined this programme to install 270,000 solar water pumps for which ISA has launched a global aggregation and price discovery tender.”

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