Cold chain and climate: The cooling crisis

Read on to learn how a revitalized cold chain can mitigate climate change, improve quality of life, and increase profitability internationally.


We must act now to prevent the cooling crisis


Modern life relies on the cold chain. Virtually all perishable goods from food to medical supplies need to be refrigerated to some degree from production to distribution. While the cold chain can improve the quality of life worldwide, it is also a significant contributor to climate change. This article will delve into the issues surrounding cooling and the solutions to those problems.

The projected growth of the cold chain

The demand and corresponding value of perishable goods (and the cold chain) are expected to grow in the next decade. From 2018 to 2020 alone, cold storage capacity grew worldwide by 16.7%. In years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic, the global cold chain market was worth $167 billion. By 2025, projections indicate an increase to $447.5 billion without considering the cold storage necessary to distribute new vaccines. 

The expected growth in the value of the cold chain over six years (in Billions of dollars)

There are a variety of socio-economic factors driving the growth in the cold chain. The global emergence of the middle class, specifically in the Asia Pacific region (APAC), notably in India and China, plays a large role. In 2019, APAC’s frozen food market was valued at $57 Billion and is projected to hit $83 Billion by 2023. This is evidence of a broader shift in consumer habits. Middle-class consumers in these regions are transitioning away from a tradition of purchasing produce from local vendors, otherwise known as “wet markets.” In contrast, the “supermarket” model, one in which consumers drive to a grocery store, buy shipped pre-packaged foods, and drive home, is being normalized quickly, increasing at a rate of 7% a year.

The expected growth in the value of the frozen food market in APAC over four years (In billions of dollars)

Cooling and climate change

Cooling is more of a necessity when elevated temperatures are a constant rather than an anomaly. While cooling itself is the answer to the problems posed by climate change, it’s also a large contributor to those various problems. Cooling already consumes 25-30% of electricity worldwide, is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and consumption is expected to increase 33-fold by 2100. Aaswath Raman of SkyCool Systems notes that:

“One of the most alarming things about climate change is that the warmer our planet gets, the more we’re going to need cooling systems… this then has the potential to cause a feedback loop, where cooling systems alone could become one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gasses later this century.” 

This paradox is the Cooling Crisis. It is undoubtedly a good thing that more people globally experience the comfort and convenience enjoyed in North America, Europe, and parts of Oceania for decades. However, this global increase in comfort and convenience contributes to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, hastening climate change. 

In this video, Therma’s co-founder, Aaron Cohen, defines the cooling crisis and explains the complexity of providing thermal comfort while keeping an eye on sustainability. 

Solutions to the cooling crisis

With the cooling industry’s anticipated growth and the effects on the planet, entrepreneurs are developing new approaches to redefine the cooling industry. The following parts of this series will deal with what these different approaches are and how they play out on the ground.

They include: 

  • Cooling as a Service (CaaS): Cooling as a Service is a business model based on the concept of servitization. By providing inexpensive short-term cold storage in areas that lack cooling, producers and consumers benefit financially. Simultaneously, operators are incentivized to provide the best service possible, in many cases utilizing sustainable means to do so.
  • Natural Refrigerants: While refrigeration is pervasive in developed countries, the fluorinated gases used to power them are hazardous. In a nod to the early days of refrigeration, operators are turning to natural refrigerants such as CO2 and Ammonia to improve their carbon footprint.
  • Remote Monitoring: Implementing natural refrigeration is infrastructure-intensive and often financially inaccessible for small to medium-sized businesses and individuals. Remote monitoring offers a stop-gap by indicating refrigerant leakage and excess electricity use, allowing the opportunity for improved efficiency and reduced food waste.

The problems presented by cooling-related emissions are numerous. Due to various degrees of industrialization in each individual region, alleviating them will require a multi-pronged approach. Therefore, while the innovations listed above represent above are a step forward, they represent just the beginning of what will be required.  

At Therma°, we believe that our remote monitoring system is key to providing sustainable cooling worldwide. For more information on how Therma° can help your business operate more efficiently and sustainably, download our whitepaperpurchase sensors online, or request a demo with a Therma representative.



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