BBC World Hacks investigate the cool ways of keeping things cool

Donkey's transporting vaccines are part of the cold chain

This week, BBC World Hacks presenter Harriet Noble and reporter Tom Colls, interviewed Ian Tansley, Peter Dearman and Professor Toby Peters about the vast and expensive system to keep things cool across the world. This system costs billions to run and has a big environmental cost, but in poorer countries, this ‘cold chain' is just in its infancy.

Cold chains include fridges in kitchens, refrigerated lorries and cold store warehouses for supermarket produce and medicines. These chains act as an integrated network of temperature-controlled pack houses, storage, distribution hubs and vehicles that are used to maintain the quality and quantity of food and medicine.

The challenge is that countries like Africa and India suffer from broken cold chains and the global demand for cooling possesses a larger carbon footprint than aviation and cooling combined and this is only expected to increase.

To overcome these challenges Ian Tansley Chief Executive Officer for Surechill and Peter Dearman, inventor of the Dearman Engine have both respectively invented new innovative cold chain technologies that are clean and can help fill the breaks in the chain.

Surechill’s innovation is a life-saving fridge that to date has transported 36 million doses of vaccines and can go days without being plugged in to the grid. By keeping a 30cm block of ice at the top of the fridge and walls filled with water, products within the fridge are able to remain at the optimal temperature of 4°C as long as the ice remains. This technology is critical for areas where power supplies are intermittent and traditional fridges could lose power for unpredictable amounts of time, making vaccines ineffective before they reach the point of injection.

Peter Dearman’s innovation can help reduce the growing carbon footprint of keeping things cool. He has designed an efficient commercially viable engine that runs on liquid nitrogen. This engine does not involve any burning and the exhaust fumes from the vehicles with this engine are simply unpolluted air. This technology is currently being trialled by high street food retailers in the UK as a sustainable alternative to the heavily polluting refrigerated truck.

In the interview, Professor Toby Peters suggested the liquid nitrogen needed to power the Dearman engine could be produced by using waste cold from the import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) that is often just thrown in to the sea. This would form part of a cold economy where cold is stored and used as and when it is needed.

Professor Peters went on to explain why complete clean cold chains are of such imperative importance: “We’ve got 750 million people who live in rural communities, in poverty and yet 50% of the food that is produced in the developing world actually is lost post-harvest primarily because there is no cold chain. A cold chain will not only prevent this food waste and help reduce hunger, they also help farmers get out of poverty because they are able to get their food to market in the best quality.”

To listen to the full interview please follow this link