Sustainable Cooling - Our Work

Access to cooling is essential for meeting our social and economic goals but equally unmanaged growth in cooling represents one of the largest end user threats to achieving our climate goals for CO2 emissions. To address this, we urgently need access to clean cooling for all.
Air conditioning units on the outside of housing

Read our A Cool World: Defining the Energy Conundrum of Cooling for All report (PDF)

Our work to date work, including research with stakeholders across the sector, has led to a clear set of recommendations. Given the urgency and magnitude of the challenge and the multi-partner and multi-disciplinary research and delivery mechanisms required, to lead this work we urge the establishment of a multi-disciplinary Centre of Excellence for Clean Cooling (CEfCC) to bring the global expertise together to research and develop the step-change pathways (culture and social, technology, policy, business models, financing) for achieving (i) cheapest cost (whole of life), (ii) greatest energy system resilience and (iii) lowest carbon emissions while (iv) meeting social and economic cooling needs. To this end we are already working with a series of partners from academia, research institutes, Governments, industry and NGOs.

What is "Clean Cooling"?

Meeting our cooling needs sustainably within our climate change, natural resource and clean air targets. Clean cooling necessarily must be affordable and accessible to all to deliver the societal, economic and health goals. It likely starts with mitigating demand.

What needs to happen to deliver Cooling for All sustainably?

Delivering sustainable Cooling for All
 Roadmap Delivery Accelerate
All-stakeholder engagement
Engage and drive collaboration across the main stakeholder groups (policy, customers, industry, developers and financiers)
Fund Innovation development
Connect research institutes OEMs, VCs, policymakers and customers to collaborate on the delivery of high impact innovation.
 Policies to unlock finance
Create the market environment (policies and business models) to attract infrastructure investment to deliver "Cooling for All"
Systems Level Analysis
Assess Cooling for All at the systems level - size of the challenge and alternative technologies, energy sources, business models and cross-industry resource efficiency sharing mechanisms.
Eliminate the performance risk and demonstrate impact through live market testing and validation in Living Labs
Identify the skills gap (design through to installation and maintenance) and  connect educational institutes OEMs,  policy makers and customers to collaborate on the delivery of accelerated solutions
Create the Intervention roadmap (technology, policy, finance, etc) to deliver 70% reduction in electricity usage for cooling.
Design manufacturing processes and engage industry to scale novel technologies; ideally using a global science, local delivery model
Effective Knowledge Transfer
Use system level model, in-country living labs and manufacturing accelerator to roll out "fit for market" solutions across new geographies

Unintended Consequences

Identify, plan for and mitigate potential unintended consequences.


Research programmes

Applied and Public Health Expertise

The University has expertise in applied and public health research. Of relevance to the clean cooling agenda and safe transport and storage of medicines and food safety is research conducted in low-capacity environments this includes: experience of conducting randomised controlled trials, in low capacity environments with community groups, grass roots organisations and governments; collaborative research and knowledge transfer around delivering health systems; at the household level, research into refrigeration of food and improving food safety. 

Centres of Excellence 


A new African Centre of Excellence for sustainable cooling and cold chain based in Rwanda will help get farmers’ produce to market quickly and efficiently – reducing food waste, boosting profits and creating jobs. Based in Kigali and inspired by the University of Rwanda’s existing Africa Centre of Excellence of Energy for Sustainable Development, the new Centre – which is operational and already conducting feasibility studies – aims to link the country’s farmers, logistics providers and agrifood businesses with a range of experts and investors. In future phases, the scope will be expanded to cover interested partners in Africa. Rwanda’s Cooling Initiative (RCOOL), supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) through its United for Efficiency (U4E) programme, provides the foundation for the new Centre, which is part of the country’s National Cooling Strategy, launched in 2019.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham and Edinburgh’s Heriot Watt University are joining RCOOL to apply their expertise with rural cooling and that can be used for food and medicines. The Centre will build upon their work in India with non-profit, commercial and academic partners investigating cold chain opportunities. The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is funding these efforts.

Find out more about the Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chain at the Rwanda Environment Management Authority website. 

Read the Africa's clean cooling centre of excellence moves closer to boosting farmer's livelihoods press release


In partnership with the British High Commission in India and the Agri-Tech team at the Dept for International Trade (DIT), members of the Centre for Sustainable Cooling have been asked to develop and design a feasibility study for a localisable Model Post-Harvest Management (PHM) and Logistics Hub with an objective of making this a ‘Centre of Excellence’ to support roll-out at scale in India. Led by the University of Birmingham, the team includes Cranfield University, London South Bank University and the National Resources Institute, University of Greenwich plus industry experts.

Cryogenic Engine Research and Development Expertise

Within the School of Mechanical Engineering, the Vehicle and Engine Technology Research Centre has a world-leading research profile in combustion engines and low carbon vehicle technology. Working closely with UK industry, the Centre carries out research in engine architecture and advanced engine technologies, helping to design the engines and fuels for the future; including hybrid powertrains. In relation to cooling, colleagues within the School and Centre have collaborated on a number of projects to optimise transport refrigeration system technology utilising Liquid Air or Liquid Nitrogen.

Delivering a COVID-19 Vaccine

Before March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that, as a result of broken cold-chain, there are more than 1.5 million deaths globally from vaccine-preventable diseases every year – 30% of which are among children under five. WHO estimates that more than 25% of some vaccines may be wasted globally every year because of temperature control and logistics failure.

The successful delivery of an eventual Covid-19 vaccine to all those that need it is dependent of established cold-chains around the globe. Researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Cooling have been working on solving the cold-chain conundrum for many years, establishing ways to deliver Cooling for All. 

Bangladesh and Beyond

Our Scientists will work in Bangladesh to create a blueprint to help ensure that medics can get a COVID-19 vaccine to everyone who needs it across the Global South. Universal vaccine access is already a major challenge in lowincome countries, due to the lack of robust refrigerated cooling networks especially to remote communities. Mass vaccination for COVID-19 will need to deliver vaccines to people globally at scale and speed never before considered. Supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), an international team of researchers led by scientists at the University of Birmingham and Heriot-Watt University will work with their counterparts at BRAC University, in Bangladesh, and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) to assess the capacity and preparedness of Bangladesh’s cold-chain framework – creating a roadmap and model for global COVID-19 vaccination.


Scientists are launching a key study to help African nations prepare for the sustainable distribution of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine. Mass, rapid COVID-19 vaccination will be an immense challenge for sub-Saharan African countries with significant rural populations and existing cold-chain infrastructure will need to be significantly improved if a vaccine is to reach the people who need it. Working with the United Nations Environment Program – United for Efficiency team, researchers from the University of Birmingham and Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, are undertaking a fasttrack study in Rwanda to explore how the coldchain is currently used to distribute vaccines in the country. The study will also define gaps in infrastructure and develop strategies for sustainable COVID-19 vaccine delivery. Findings will help governments, vaccine development agencies, pharma and logistics companies begin to plan for the future.


Scientists from the Centre for Sustainable cooling have launched a major new research project in India that will help to engineer an efficient and sustainable delivery mechanism – ready to get an eventual COVID-19 vaccine to billions of people around the globe. Researchers racing to develop, test and manufacture an effective coronavirus vaccine will also need to distribute the drug globally, but universal vaccine access is already a major challenge, particularly in low-income countries across the global South – partly due to the lack of robust cold-chains. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization estimates that only 10% of health care facilities in the world’s poorest countries have a reliable electricity supply while in some countries less than 5% of health centres have vaccine-qualified refrigerators. Backed by the Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, experts from the University of Birmingham and Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh are joining forces with non-profit, commercial and academic partners to begin investigating the scale of challenge involved in distributing a potentially temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccine.

Domestic Air Conditioning in 2050

Jenny Crawley, Stephanie Ogunrin, Shivani Taneja, Inna Vorushlyo, Xinfang Wang


The latest projections from the Met Office show that the UK annual average temperature is set to increase by 0.7-3 degrees from the 1981-2000 to the 2041-60 period (Met Office, 2019). Alongside average increases, summer temperatures will rise, as well as the frequency of heatwaves. The Met Office estimate that the extreme hot summer experienced in 2018 would be less than 0.5% likely with no manmade climate change, is 12% probable currently, and will be 50% likely by 2050 (Met Office, 2018). This raises the question of the likely uptake of domestic air conditioning.

Previous cooling scenarios and assumptions

Little data exists for the UK quantifying the relationship between AC uptake and its predictors. National Grid (2019) assumed a 60% penetration by 2050 (based on all homes in urban areas installing air conditioning). The Tyndall Centre (2016) constructed projections for 2030 using various scenarios. One was based on the current growth of the market (1.6% by 2030), one was based on growth as seen in other countries (2.9% by 2030), and two were based on simple DECC scenarios (33% and 67% by 2051). Finally, Peacock et al (2010)  used the relationship between uptake and cooling degree days observed in America to predict 18% uptake in London by 2030, caveating this finding due to behavioural differences between the U.S. and England.

Aims of this project

  • To construct a set of socio-technical scenarios for 2050 AC penetration
  • To provide a first estimate of grid impacts based on temporal characteristics of air conditioning use
  • To identify the data gaps and areas for future collaboration

Scenario construction

The aim was to produce a small number of scenarios using a limited set of social and technical variables which are known from the literature to be important predictors of air conditioning uptake. In an ideal world, an uptake model from now to 2050 would have been constructed however the data for this were not available, hence using a scenario approach. We focus on England to narrow the scope.

Building simulation was carried out using UCL’s HPRU model to explore some physical variables: geographical location, building age and dwelling type. Literature and other theory was used to examine the effect of other variables: heat stress, children, income, tenure, urban heat island.

Four scenarios

Four narratives were constructed as follows:

  1. Building-based scenario: homes built between 1990 and 2025 overheat more than others and all occupants install air conditioning. After 2025, the Future Homes standard for new buildings kicks in and overheating is significantly mitigated.
  2. Age demographic (1): all households where the Household Reference Person is aged 75 or over install get air conditioning. This takes place across the socio-economic and tenure spectrum, perhaps as a result of a policy equivalent to the Winter Fuel Discount which only considers age.
  3. Age demographic (2): all owner-occupied dwellings with at least one dependent child install air conditioning.

  4. Wealth demographic scenario: all owner-occupied dwellings with income above the median install air conditioning. 

Since climate is known to be an important factor (Yun & Steemers, 2011), each of the above four scenarios had two implementations: one for all dwellings in the category, and one confined to urban environments in the south of England. ‘Urban’ was defined as the three ‘predominantly urban’ categories of conurbation defined by DEFRA (2011).

Summary of scenario results

  • The range of air conditioning penetration from the above scenarios was 5-32% of English households
  • This is obviously a very simplistic treatment of uptake which uses crude and simple categories and some combinations of categories. In reality, within a given category, not ‘all’ the population of that category would adopt air conditioning.
  • All of the scenarios resulted in less than a third of households adopting AC. This is much lower than National Grid’s prediction of 60%.
  • They have been constructed so that the location/weather variable (the south/urban flag) makes a big difference (5-12% of households if the flag is applied, 19-32% if it is not). The size of this difference in reality is currently unknown in England.

Building Modelling

In order to estimate the grid impacts of the above scenarios, the half hourly AC power consumption on a hot day was estimated for two of the most common building types in the UK. Therefore, a one-storey semi-detached house and a three-storey block of flats was modelled using Autodesk Revit. Both dwelling types were modelled using standard current standard construction.


It was intended to carry out building simulation using 2050 climate projections, however the free Prometheus files available displayed erroneously cooler weather than currently so were regarded as not compatible with latest Met Office predictions (Met Office, 2019b).  Therefore, current weather files for London Heathrow were generated using Meteonorm data. Designbuilder software was then used to carry out half hourly dynamic thermal simulations of the 2 buildings using the weather files.

Key features of the building modelling are summarised here:

  • Timings of air conditioning use were based on the best available data: the UK-based empirical study by Pathan et al (2008) and some additional building simulation showing the time of the warmest internal temperatures to be 2-6pm
  • Windows were assumed to be closed at night, in accordance with Mavrogianni et al  (2017) who showed that this was the case in a proportion of London homes for reasons of noise and security
  • Internal temperature above which AC was switched on was also based on Pathan et al (2008) as 25°C for living rooms during the day/evening and 20°C for bedrooms at night.

Electricity System Modelling


  • The AC loads derived in the previous section were simply multiplied by the uptake scenarios above to give a total AC load. A COP of 3 was used to convert kW(th) to kW(elec)
  • National Grid’s ‘Two Degrees’ scenario (National Grid, 2019) was used to predict the other demands on the grid, as well as the solar and typical wind power. The other grid demands included significant EV charging.
  • AC load was then added to the other grid demands to investigate the potential effect of air conditioning. 


Domestic Ait Conditioning in 2050 Project Results Graph

Our highest (i.e. worst case) scenario increases the evening peak by 7 GW. In this scenario the reason for the peak increase is the pre-existence of an evening EV charging peak coincidental with AC demand. AC is not coincidental with solar PV generation.

This is based on scenario modelling and not absolute truth, therefore the best interpretation of the results is perhaps to explore the issues and questions it raises:

  • If EV charging and AC are coincidental, does this present a problem for the electricity system? If so, which demand should take priority and which should be shifted?
  • How can renewable generation be reconciled with AC demand which occurs hours later?
  • What is the effect of AC demand diversity on the results? 

Project Summary 

  • Domestic cooling is an energy demand meriting more investigation
  • If air conditioning is used as we assume in our scenarios, summer peak will increase and demand will not coincide with optimum renewable generation
  • Key gaps in the evidence base were found to include:

 What motivates English households to install air conditioning? What time of day or night is air conditioning really used? How many rooms will air conditioning be installed in per home? How coincident is the AC demand across UK households? 


Economics, Management and Law 

Building upon the School’s established expertise in the field of environmental economics, the Birmingham Centre for Environmental, Energy Economics and Management (BCEEEM) brings together individuals from a variety of disciplines to examine the complex relationship between economic activity and the environment. The centre's interests and activities are global, with a focus on firm behaviour, competition for scarce resources with environmental constraints and a broad range of subjects examining the links between social and economic behaviour and the environment at multiple levels of analysis, incorporating individuals, firms, industries and nations. The Birmingham Centre for Environmental & Energy Economics & Management complements the University of Birmingham’s expertise in technologies for clean cooling providing an economic, business and social-science perspective on the global challenge of meeting increasing demand for cooling, sustainably.

Energy Law Expertise

There is growing area of research at the university focussing on energy law and regulation from an environmental governance rather than competition perspective. Energy Law experts at the University are already engaged on energy and environmental projects. For example, the Faraday Institution ReLiB project team looking at reuse & recycling of lithium batteries.

Energy Storage 

Central to the University’s Engineering and Physical Sciences research activity and expertise in clean cooling is the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage (BCES) led by Professor Yulong Ding is a cross campus centre with its hub in the School of Chemical Engineering. BCES is part of the Birmingham Energy Institute and brings together research from across the University to drive innovation in thermal (both hot and cold) energy storage. The Centre’s research activity covers the different stages from fundamental research & development in cryogenic energy storage and phase change materials through to industrial application and high-value manufacturing.

BCES’s focus on energy storage technologies and application is complemented by the work of Professor Toby Peters widening the impact of the research and examining how to manage the environmental, societal and economic impacts of cooling. This research activity is developing new integrated system level thinking, policy and commercial solutions for the ‘Cold Economy’ and ‘clean cooling’ through international collaborations, considering novel technologies for refrigeration, technology hybridisation and cooling and their development, business model and system integration. 

BCES Thermal Energy Storage Expertise 

Professor Yulong Ding is a world expert in thermal energy systems and leads the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage. He worked with Professor Toby Peters to develop the technology behind the Highview Liquid Air Energy Storage and is leading international projects such as the development of novel air conditioning systems for high speed rail.

Dr Jonathan Radcliffe is an expert on the modelling of the integration of energy systems and with Professor Peters is involved the in £7M EU Cryohub project. Dr Radcliffe has also developed Birmingham's Masters programme in Energy Systems.

Engineering/Technology Research Activity 

Based in the School of Mechanical Engineering, Dr Raya Al-Dadah and Dr Saad Mahmoud have collaborated on many research projects in Egypt and Qatar developing novel adsorption systems for cooling with integrated Metal Organic Framework (MOF) materials. The adsorption systems are efficient, compact and economically viable and able to exploit abundant solar energy, reducing energy demand for air-conditioning and cooling for a variety of applications including food, retail and hospitals. In addition the MOF material in the adsorption systems can be used for more efficient water treatment and desalination in countries where water poverty is an issue for a significant proportion of the population.

Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

The School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (GEES) has a number of initiatives and programmes examining complementary issues to the Clean Cooling agenda. In particular, the work of the Urban Initiative, launched in September 2017, spans a range of topics relating to health and environmental changes, risks and resilience (from flooding to volcanic hazards), liveability, biodiversity and greening, as well as urban planning, regeneration and community engagement. There is also considerable expertise in air pollution research at the University of Birmingham, working to identify the different causes and effects of air pollution.

Institute for Global Innovation

Clean cooling research is also supported by the University of Birmingham’s Institute for Global Innovation (IGI) that aims to inspire, support and deliver world-leading, multidisciplinary research that addresses the world’s most pressing challenges. Clean Cooling is an emerging theme for IGI run in conjunction with the Birmingham Energy Institute. IGI ‘clean cooling’ research focuses on the societal, business and financial models and necessary regulation that will allow optimal integration in a commercially sensible and technologically practical way with benefits equitably and widely realised. The Clean Cooling emerging theme overlaps with other IGI themes and research: Resilient Cities, Water Challenges in a Changing World and Environmental Pollution Solutions, in particular.

Supergen Storage Network Plus

The Supergen Storage Network Plus 2019 led by Professor Yulong Ding recently secured £1 million funding from the EPSRC with £2 million in-kind contributions and £100,000 from industry partners to connect researchers from across universities and diverse disciplines and support new collaborations and innovative research. The network has a core partnership of 19 investigators from 12 UK institutions with a further 60 organisations from the UK and pledging support. The network’s aim is to create a dynamic, strategic and sustainable platform, that connects and serves people from diverse backgrounds from across the whole energy storage value chain.

Sustainable Energy Use Expertise 

Professor Peter Fryer is an expert in food technology and is a co-director of the UK Centre for Sustainable Energy Use in Food Chains.

Dr Rosie Day is an expert in energy social science and Co-Investigator of The DEMAND Centre and together with Professor Peters plans to look at the unintended consequences and the impacts of introducing a major shift to dynamic socio-technical systems. 

Thermal Energy Research Accelerator

The Thermal Energy Research Accelerator (T-ERA) is one of three work streams within ERA - a capital investment of £60million from Government capital funding, supported by an additional £120 million of co-investment secured by industry and academic partners. 

Through the Thermal Energy Research Accelerator (T-ERA) work stream of ERA, academics at the University of Birmingham and Loughborough University have worked with the Smart Manufacturing Accelerator (SMA) at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) to develop the International Thermal Energy Manufacturing Research Accelerator (ITEMA) and Factory in a Box (FiaB) concept developed by Toby Peters and the MTC.

The first FiaB demonstrator builds on the work of Professor Yulong Ding and BCES academics on cryogenic energy systems. A Factory in a Box (FIAB) is a rapidly deployable, modular manufacturing supply chain network enabled by industrial digital technologies. The ‘Factory in a Box concept’ has been developed through ITEMA to Industry 4.0 standards with remote access to process control and quality control, it is fully automated, robotic manufacturing. FIAB manufacture provides a rapid route to market for products with a faster ROI on its manufacturing innovation and new disruptive business models for the supply chain.

The first FiaB demonstrator has been developed through collaboration with a company developing zero-emission cold and power systems for transport and the built environment. ERA Universities are currently developing further FiaB applications linked to energy research with the MTC.

Unintended Consequences of Cooling

Introducing more affordable and readily available means of cooling in food supply chains and the built environment is not just a matter of adding cooling to the status quo; it will introduce major shifts to dynamic socio-technical systems as well as the wider environment and eco-systems. These could result in a number of unintended and sometimes negative, as well as positive, effects. It is important to try to identify and plan for these in advance.

For example:

  • A cold chain could allow farmers to transition from staple to high value (but temperature sensitive) horticulture. A move to potentially more water demanding produce could have implication for water resources.
  • The provision of food supply chain cooling will allow farmers to reach more distant markets. More processing at the farm could lead to increased packaging demands, in itself a major source of environmental pollution
  • Refrigeration in the home can change cooking styles and patterns – especially the case if coupled with more processed food and the convenience products that cold chains enable. This can affect can indigenous diets and health. Domestic refrigeration can also reduce the frequency of shopping which can affect local marketplaces.

These are but a small number of examples, yet they illustrate clearly the importance of research work to identify potential unintended negative social, ecological or economic consequences and engage to mitigate them as soon as possible.

Water Energy Food Nexus Expertise

Water stress and global heating are making it increasingly challenging to feed fast-growing populations in the world’s arid regions. Water, energy and food are interlinked resources, such that effective solutions should take into account all three in order to avoid just shifting problems from one area to another. For example, seawater desalination is increasingly used to supply freshwater in desert countries, but comes at a large energy cost. Today, desalination is being scaled up to meet the irrigation demands of agriculture, but this will result in huge carbon dioxide emissions – unless solutions are sought to produce food with low overall input of energy and water. For this purpose, we have been investigating Seawater Greenhouse technology, using seawater and solar energy, to cool spaces used for agriculture. These low-grade cooling systems operate at atmospheric pressure and achieve modest temperature drops (e.g. 5 to 20 deg.C) by varying the moisture content of air. Cooling has been linked with desalination in seawater greenhouses to increase overall resource efficiency.