Refrigeration is essential to transport and preserve food.

University of Birmingham clean cold experts are working with the National Centre for Cold-chain Development (NCCD) and Indian counterparts to explore how integrated ‘Community Cooling Hubs’ can help farming communities in India reduce food waste, increase their income and meet rural communities’ cooling needs in an affordable and sustainable way.

Launching the project on World Refrigeration Day (26 June) with a workshop in New Delhi, sustainable cooling experts will begin developing ways of integrating food cold chains with other cold-dependent services such as community health facilities, social facilities such as creches and even emergency services.

Effective refrigeration is essential to manage food and medicine distribution. It underpins industries and economic growth, while room cooling is key to sustainable urbanisation and human productivity and makes much of the world bearable - or even safe - to live in.

Researchers from the Birmingham Energy Institute, Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, and the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) in India are supported by the Shakti Foundation and will join efforts with NCCD in this new project.

Representatives from Government, farming communities, NCCD and agri-business will take part in the one-day event to kick off the programme to deliberate on the concept of Community Cooling Hubs. A second event is being held in Pune to engage with farmer and civil society organisations.

Experts believe that creating Cooling Hubs, using appropriate technology and business models, will help to remove barriers that stop subsistence farmers from using temperature-controlled logistics. These Hubs can also be deployed to provide the local Community access to other refrigeration dependant services.

Toby Peters, Professor in Clean Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, commented: “In India, up to 40% of food is lost post-harvest because of lack of cold chain. We can’t address malnutrition and rural poverty without cold chains extending crop life and connecting farmers to markets.

“We’re proposing a radical approach to cooling provision, where cold chains meet the wider community’s cooling needs in a clean, affordable and sustainable way. By aggregating demand to optimise system efficient energy and resource management and bundle multiple revenues streams, we can create a cohesive approach focused on the full range of society’s needs.

“Cooling hubs could support farmers, whilst ensuring that communities have continuing access to life-saving medicines and properly cooled health facilities and community services.”

This project will explore how temperature-controlled food pack-houses could innovate to hybridise and employ technologies to meet other community-based cold needs.

The cooling system could be used to cool a community hall to serve as a crèche for infants or elderly; perhaps providing a schoolroom for classes on the hottest days of the year. Vaccines and medicines could be safely stored at these hubs for local health care services.

The Hubs could host secondary agricultural activities that utilise local resources in terms of labour and farm output, such as processing milk into cheese or yoghurt, making jams and pickles, and ayurvedic medicines. They would be employment hubs for the local community.

Community hubs could be designed to function as ‘life boats’ in times of disaster - managing the stock of emergency supply of blood and medicines needed in response to a disaster, according to the threat assessment for the region.

Professor Pawanexh Kohli - NCCD CEO, commented: “Rural society is essentially sharing in mind set, and rural communities naturally share common resources and work spaces. Community Cooling Hubs are a logical corollary in modern day context; not only to bring organisation to the post-production logistics chain, but also to service other welfare needs and add to their traditional economic activities.

“The 22,000 GrAMs (Rural Agriculture Aggregation Centres and Markets) being promoted by the Government of India, were conceived accordingly. In synergy, the Model Contract Farming & Services Act was formulated, so that farm communities can contract such services, instead of being seen only as the contracted party in the agricultural ecosystem.

"Community cooling hubs take forward refrigeration from the immediate realm of cooling machines, into the dimension of collaborative technologies and models to drive a weightier wellbeing. NCCD is enthused to see domain experts coming together for such strategic development.”

The project follows the University of Birmingham’s partnership earlier in the year with the World Bank Group and UK Department of Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to host a global Clean Cooling Congress around sustainable, accessible cooling for all who need it – without over-heating the planet.

Experts at Birmingham plan to work with the NCCD and others, over a period of 12 months with farming communities in the state of Maharashtra. They will be supported by colleagues from Heriot-Watt University, the University of Edinburgh and ImechE as the project helps to:

  • Quantify cooling required in rural communities to deliver what people need;
  • Explore the viability of integrating food cold chains with other cold-dependent services;
  • Consider novel community cooling business and financing models; and
  • Develop ‘Cooling hubs’ as business units that meet the livelihood, nutrition, employment, education requirements of the communities.

The longer-term aim is to create a first of a kind community-based ‘Living Labs’ hub to demonstrate technologies and their integrated use to meet local cooling needs.

With populations and incomes growing, urbanisation continuing and climate change causing rising temperatures, the world will need to provide far more cooling. If we are to deliver universal access to cooling, by 2050, with current technologies and approaches, these devices could increase energy consumption from cooling six-fold, adding to global warming. Clean cold is now at the heart of the climate and development debate, which concerns many of the world’s international development and environmental agencies.

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • In-country operational aspects of this project shall be led by experts at the Centre for Environment Education.
  • Centre for Environment Education (CEE) was established in 1984 as a Centre of Excellence, of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India with a mandate to promote environmental awareness nationwide. CEE is headquartered in Ahmedabad, India and works globally, nationally and locally to develop innovative educational programmes and materials, with a broad vision to build capacities in the field of education and communication for sustainable development. CEE has over 300 staff members, in 34 regional/field offices across India and internationally.

For further information please contact
Sanskriti Menon
Senior Programme Director