The University of Birmingham announces today (16 March 2015) the launch of a new policy commission entitled ‘Doing Cold Smarter’. It will investigate how the growing demand for ‘cold’ and cooling, which is required to address global challenges of hunger, disease and population growth, can be met without causing environmental ruin.

The provision of cold is a vital foundation of modern society - without it medicine, data and the supply and preservation of food would break down.  Cooling is also energy intensive; estimates suggest that it consumes up to 14% of Britain’s electricity and £5.2 billion each year is spent on energy for cold across the grid and transport. These figures will be significantly higher in warmer countries, while in rapidly developing nations such as China and India investment in cooling is starting to boom.

Yet, compared to electricity, transport and heat, cold and cooling has received little attention in the international energy debate.  However, the energy and environmental costs associated with the need to provide cold have become evident and are predicted to increase dramatically in the years to come. The commission will research new ways of providing cold in a sustainable way, specifically through a system level approach, as well as exploring the economic opportunities this new clean cold industry could present.

This policy commission will also investigate ways the UK could become a global leader in the development of new cold energy systems, the technical, economic, research and skills issues around ‘cold’ and the potential economic and environmental impacts. 

The commission leaders will invite international experts from academia, NGOs and industry to attend workshops in the UK and in Asia to discuss how to do cold smarter both in emerging markets and in the UK, which could include the following:

  • greater recycling of waste energy, including waste cold to supply cooling
  • using liquid air and other cryogens as energy vectors to store and deliver cold and power
  • developing more efficient technologies, materials and practices around cold and cooling
  • establishing a skills base that can meet the future demand for new technologies and manufacturing

Lord Teverson, Liberal Democrat Peer and Energy and Climate Change Spokesperson who will chair this commission, said: ‘I have taken on the role as Chair of this exciting policy commission because cold is a vital part of energy policy for the future, but that has been little explored.

‘The demand for cooling is rising globally, and if we fill this urgent need with existing technologies it would have a detrimental effect, not only on the environment, but also for our energy supply. 

‘Bringing together experts, policy makers and innovators around one table will enable us to work out how to tackle these issues sustainably and in the process provide much-needed manufacturing and engineering jobs for the UK.’

Visiting Professor of Cold and Power at the University of Birmingham, Toby Peters, who is leading the commission, said: ‘Cold is vital to the way we live our lives today and to address the challenges of tomorrow. But it is all too often overlooked.  This commission will address that myopia and will focus attention on how we can meet problems such as feeding growing populations and distributing medicine, without causing environmental or societal damage.’

Professor Martin Freer, Director of the Birmingham Energy Institute, said: ‘Through policy commissions such as this, the Birmingham Energy Institute is delivering clear, and integrated, priorities and guidance on technology, policy and barriers to innovation. It is abundantly clear the UK needs a joined up approach on heat energy, the management of which is an even greater challenge than electrical power. As such it is essential to develop an overarching understand of the cold end of the thermal spectrum and where the opportunities lie for a proper integrated energy system which properly includes demand for cooling and cold technologies.’


Further information: Kate Chapple, Press Office, University of Birmingham, tel +44 (0)121 414 2772 or +44 (0)7789 921164

  • This is the seventh Policy Commission launched by the University of Birmingham. The Birmingham Policy Commissions bring leading figures from the public, private and third sectors together with Birmingham academics to generate new thinking on contemporary issues of global, national and civic concern. The final report will be launched in October 2015. 
  • The University of Birmingham is a truly global University producing world-leading research and is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Birmingham benefits from mutual partnerships with a wide range of international institutions and hosts a large international community of researchers and students. 
  • With almost 5,000 international students from more than 150 countries, and 31% of academic staff from overseas, Birmingham’s campus is truly a diverse and global place which attracts the brightest and best international students and staff.