Sustainable cooling experts are creating a roadmap to help reach the UK’s 2050 net zero carbon emissions target, while maintaining food security for consumers and economic opportunity for the country’s food industry.

Backed by £1.4 million of UKRI funding announced today, the four-year Zero Emission Cold-Chain (ZECC) project will create the first detailed roadmap to allow the UK food cold chain industry to identify opportunities to reduce emissions.

Led by the University of Birmingham, the project includes experts from Cranfield University Heriot-Watt University and London South Bank University, highlighting ways in which the industry can become more competitive while heading towards zero carbon.

Cranfield will be bringing its expertise in postharvest biology, technology and management in order to optimise cooling needs across the supply chain, while ensuring their quality and safety.

Dr Natalia Falagán, Lecturer in Food Science and Technology at Cranfield University and co-investigator of this project, said: "Food security is an integrated global challenge. Connecting fresh produce cooling needs with energy across the supply chain will optimise the system, reducing emissions and food losses".

Project leader Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Much of UK’s food is dependent on the cold food chain, which is also a significant contributor to the country’s energy demand. Our project is about thinking thermally and analysing engineering, energy resources, food quality and safety, finance and business aspects to crack the conundrum of sustainable decarbonisation of cooling and the cold-chain."

The project aims to deliver energy savings, significantly reduced postharvest food losses and better quality of product to UK industry and policy makers, as well as reduced emissions related to crop loss, by:

  • Updating information on energy usage and CO2 emissions;
  • Assessing how to maintain the quality and safety of fresh produce in the supply chain;
  • Designing strategies to reduce food loss;
  • Evaluating future cooling energy consumption demands and their impact on UK energy;
  • Using a systems approach to explore how to manage cooling demand; and
  • Determining areas of intervention, considering available energy and thermal resources, emission targets and other commitments as well as costs.