A cool appointment: Birmingham introduces new Visiting Professor of Power and Cold Economy

Toby Peters, long-time advocate of UK-based innovation in energy systems and founder of Highview Power and the Dearman Engine Company, has been appointed to the position of Visiting Professor in Power and Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham.

As the need for ‘cold’ across the globe increases with a rising demand for air conditioning, industrial and medical cooling and refrigerated food storage and transport, a radical new, sustainable approach needs to be taken to the way ‘cold’ is provided and recycled.

Most countries have energy policies covering power, transport and heat, but cooling is largely overlooked. Globally the energy needed to provide cooling is already prodigious and if the projected growth in demand were satisfied using conventional technologies, the cost, carbon emissions and air pollution would be ruinous – for example, if current trends in refrigerant usage were to continue, it is predicted that hydroflourocarbons would be responsible for nearly half of the global greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

But currently large amounts of cold are not being harnessed and are going to waste, especially with the regasification of LNG - essentially gas packaged in cold for ease of transport by sea where the ‘packaging’ is then normally thrown away when the gas is re-gasified to go into the national gas grid. Less than 50 per cent of the available ‘waste’ cold is currently used - less than 20 per cent in the UK. The UK currently imports more than 100 terawatt hours of gas, about 4 per cent of total primary energy consumption.

Professor Toby Peters said: ‘I have been leading the development of liquid air as a new energy vector for many years and am delighted to now be part of the team at Birmingham. The demand for cold is booming across the world, particularly in the developing world, as modern life demands cooling in all sorts of ways from air conditioning to the cold chain of refrigerated warehouses and vehicles needed to preserve and transport food from farm to fork. But with the magnitude of the demand, we need a system level approach supported by a range of solutions if emissions and CO2 are not to run out of control. ‘Clean cold’ is the new, multi-billion pound opportunity and the UK’s strengths in mechanical engineering, energy systems and cryogenic research mean it is well-placed to be a world leader.’

Studies show that if developing countries had the same level of cold chain as developed countries, they could save 200 million tonnes of perishable food annually. In markets such as India and China, static and transport cold chain is seeing annual growths of more than 25% and multi-billion pound investment to reduce post-harvest food losses, improve food hygiene and meet the lifestyle demands of the rapidly growing urban middle classes. India alone projects it needs to spend more than $15 billion on its cold chain over the next five years. In fact, estimated growth in global cooling demand to 2030 could equate to three times the current generating capacity of the UK.

Professor Richard Williams, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said: ‘We are delighted to appoint Toby Peters to this new position within the College. As well as contributing to teaching and seminars in energy policy, he will support communications activities with key external stakeholders and industry around the need to produce and harness cold and the need to create a sustainable cold infrastructure.’

The position will be hosted within the Birmingham Energy Institute, which sits across the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences and the College of Social Sciences. The centre provides a platform for developing major interdisciplinary projects in energy technology and policy.

Ends

Notes to Editors

About the University of Birmingham

  • 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.

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