The ‘cold economy’ is crucial to modern society; without it, the supply of food, medicine and data would, quite simply, collapse.
Cold is also vital for many other applications, including air conditioning, super-critical technologies and freezing and powdering materials for recycling and easy disposal. Yet the process of cooling to ultra-low temperatures currently consumes vast amounts of energy and causes a great deal of pollution. At the same time, a lot of cold energy is going to waste, especially with the re-gasification of liquefied natural gas. Natural gas is ‘packaged’ in cold to condense it for transport by sea, but the packaging is usually thrown away when it is re-gasified at important terminals. Yet it could be recycled to provide zero-emission cooling and power in a wide range of static and mobile applications.
In 2015, the Birmingham Energy Institute launched a Policy Commission, entitled Doing Cold Smarter, to look at cold at a system level, and how to combine the growing demand with the large amounts of waste. This approach would cut energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, toxic air pollution, waste and cost.
In emerging economies it could also help to reduce high levels of post-harvest food loss, which in turn would conserve water, land and energy, improve farmers’ incomes and stimulate trade and growth without harming the environment.
Birmingham Policy Commissions bring together leading figures from the public, private and third sectors, along with Birmingham academics, to generate new thinking on contemporary issues of global, national and civic concern. Among those appointed to the ‘cold commission’ is Toby Peters, Visiting Professor of Power and Cold Economy at Birmingham.
Summarising the need for the Policy Commission, he said: ‘As the need for cold across the globe rapidly increases – with rising demand for air conditioning, industrial and medical cooling, refrigerated food storage and transport – a new sustainable approach is required to the way cold is provided.’