Cold Economy

Birmingham set to lead the way on the Cold Economy

Professor Richard Williams

Professor Richard Williams, Head of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham

Last week the Carbon Trust issued a call for the Government and industry to collaborate to enable the UK to seize the opportunity of becoming the global leader in developing low-carbon cooling technologies for an emerging ‘cold economy’.

The report The Emerging Cold Economy, states that the global demand for cooling could grow to three times the current UK electricity capacity by 2030, due to the world’s expanding population and the growing middle class demographic in emerging markets.

Delivering cold to where it is most needed requires research across technical, business and policy areas. For example, the development of new materials and processes for efficient and cost-effective cooling and the creation of business systems models that seek to recognise the ‘value’ of cold. This will result in the creation of new policies for the UK and Birmingham has developed as the leading centre for the Cold Economy having made several leading academic appointments in this area and establishing the £12 million Birmingham Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage. We aim to demonstrate deployment of associated new technologies and practices building on our research centres and see this as a significant area for growth in research, this in itself driving our regional economy. Britain has the potential to lead the way. A suite of low carbon cold technologies are already in development, and the UK has world-class capabilities in cryogenics, engineering, manufacturing and finance.

A growing hub of clean cold research and expertise has developed in the Midlands. This centres upon a group of companies and research organisations that are working to develop liquid air technologies, which can simultaneously provide zero emission cooling and power. The emerging Midlands centre of excellence is an important step towards the development of a national cold economy. Government and industry could make a strategic decision to take advantage of these favourable conditions and secure a global leadership role for the UK in this major potential growth market. Research suggests that supporting the development of cold technologies would create more than 10,000 jobs by 2025 and in excess of 25,000 jobs by 2050 across development, manufacturing and after-sales support. Outside of the UK the demand for cold technologies is even greater. It is estimated that up to half of perishable food in developing countries rots before ever reaching the market, largely due to the absence of cold chains. It is estimated that food wastage occupies a land area the size of Mexico; consumes 250 km3 of water per year, three times the volume of Lake Geneva; and accounts for 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon emissions. In Asia, where the demand for cooling is rising, the Indian government forecasts an investment need of $15 billion on its cold chain over the next five years, and in China, refrigerated storage capacity is on course to increase 20-fold by 2017.

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