Solar Powered Horticulture Cold Chains (Sol-Tech)

Lead Research Organisation: Brunel University
Department Name: Institute of Energy Futures

Abstract

Globally food chains experience substantial losses which for horticulture products can be as high as 70% of production. This represents 8 percent of global Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and substantial loss of resources such as water and energy. Food losses and waste result from to many reasons, which include inadequate infrastructure and lack or unreliable energy supply, lack of skills and access to markets. A key contributor to food loss in developing countries and in particular Africa and India is the very limited availability of cold food chains for the preservation and temperature controlled distribution of fresh produce to markets.

The Sol-Tech project aims to make a contribution to addressing the food waste challenge and key Sustainable Development Challenges and Goals, including halving food waste by 2030, providing access to energy for all and alleviation of poverty and malnutrition. This will be achieved by building on previous and current research to develop to commercialisation stage an innovative but affordable solar powered modular fresh food cold storage and first mile distribution system for application in areas with no or limited and unreliable access to the electricity grid. Sol-Tech will involve collaboration between academic and industry partners from the UK, Africa and India to ensure that the technology development and commercialisation is informed by developing country needs and local political, socioeconomic and market conditions.

The innovation potential and impact of the technology are substantial. Major innovations include: i) significant, up to 40% reduction of the thermal load of food transport refrigeration insulated boxes; ii) the use of solar energy to power on-board refrigeration systems and hybrid electrical and thermal energy storage to eliminate fossil fuel demand for precooling, storage and distribution of fresh produce; iii) adaptable on-board microclimate control and communication system to minimise transpiration losses, increase shelf life and maximise product quality at point of delivery.

The project will also investigate and develop appropriate business models and commercialisation strategies tailored to specific local markets to ensure successful product commercialisation and maximum impact.

Planned Impact

The project is of substantial interest and importance and addresses international energy, decarbonisation priorities food security. The Sol-Tech programme of work and the strong academic and industry collaborations in the UK, Africa and India will make an important contribution to meeting these priorities and Sustainable Development Goals by developing to commercialisation stage, new innovative solar powered off-grid cold chain technologies that reduce energy and environmental impacts and provide increased quality, shelf life and reduce food losses.

The proposal addresses the requirements for Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding in that it aims to tackle food chain sustainability, food poverty, and health and nutrition challenges in Africa and India. Apart from food security, other socioeconomic benefits include the use of solar energy for electrical power and refrigeration, reducing reliance on imported fossil fuels and dependence on the grid. Local manufacturing of the technology and cost savings by the users will create new employment opportunities and contribute to skills development by the companies and the training of researchers by the research partners. Environmental benefits will arise from displacement of fossil fuel electricity from central power stations and diesel from diesel driven refrigeration and stationary electricity generation equipment which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution with detrimental effects on global warming and human health.

The project will also enhance the capability of stakeholders by providing engagement and evidence through demonstration of the technology to inform: i) policy decisions and appropriate interventions to enhance the value and benefits of horticulture to nutrition, poverty alleviation, and the livelihoods of rural smallholder farmers and, ii) decisions by horticulture associations, other NGOs and farmers on investment in new approaches and technologies to improve value and resilience.

It will also provide opportunities for women and teenage girls and boys to improve their skills, engage in high value horticulture activities and improve income and livelihoods through the user friendliness of the technologies and the comprehensive training that will be provided in their use.

Publications

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