Good for UK, bad for In­dia

Cold stor­age trucks are im­por­tant to ferry food. A new Bri­tish tech­nol­ogy would use liq­uid air to power truck re­frig­er­a­tion units. But is it car­bon-free?


A UK firm is ex­per­i­ment­ing with cryo­genic fu­els that will power re­frig­er­a­tor trucks but emits less

Sfood items INCE AN­TIQ­UITY, have been trans­ported from place to place. But never at the speed or in the va­ri­ety or amounts seen in the past few decades. Twenty-first cen­tury con­sumers ex­pect food when­ever they crave it, with no con­ces­sion to sea­son or ge­og­ra­phy. Cater­ing to their de­mands are trucks with re­frig­er­a­tion units that carry per­ish­able freight like vegetables, fruits, meat, milk and fish at spe­cific tem­per­a­tures via roads. But this comes at a huge cost: diesel,which pow­ers the truck, emits green­houses gases and hy­droflu­o­ro­car­bons (hfcs), used as a coolant,have very high global warm­ing po­ten­tial.

While fig­ures for the emis­sions re­leased by re­frig­er­a­tor trucks are not known, the en­tire re­frig­er­a­tion and air-con­di­tion­ing sec­tor con­trib­utes to 8-10 per cent of to­tal global green house gas emis­sions.

A va­ri­ety of op­tions are thus be­ing de­vel­oped to re­duce emis­sions from re­frig­er­a­tor trucks. One such al­ter­na­tive is to use cryo­genic fu­els,which are gases liq­uid­i­fied at very low tem­per­a­tures. The fuel is typ­i­cally used in space­crafts and re­sults in zero car­bon emis­sions.

UK-based Dear­man En­gine Company is ex­per­i­ment­ing with two cryo­genic fu­els— liq­uid air and liq­uid ni­tro­gen—to power re­frig­er­a­tor trucks. Th­ese trucks are ex­pected to hit the UK’s roads by 2016 (see ‘How Dear­man re­fig­er­a­tion unit works’on p49).

“A liq­uid air-fu­elled trans­port re­frig­er­a­tion unit could not only re­duce diesel con­sump­tion by up to 20 per cent but also elim­i­nate harm­ful ni­tro­gen ox­ides and par­tic­u­late mat­ter from the re­frig­er­a­tion process,” says Caro­line Teck, spokesper­son for Dear­man. “CO2 emis­sions and op­er­a­tional noise would also be sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced.”

Non-prof­its have given a red car-

pet wel­come to the tech­nol­ogy. Fion­nu­ala Wal­ravens, se­nior cam­paigner, En­vi­ron­men­tal In­ves­ti­ga­tion Agency (eia), a non-profit in the UK,says the tech­nol­ogy is “promis­ing”as “it avoids the need for hfcs”.

The con­cept of us­ing cryo­genic fu­els as a clean fuel is not so new and rev­o­lu­tion­ary, and has been in dis­cus­sion for long, says Lam­bert Kupi­jers, co-chair­per­son of Re­frig­er­a­tion, Air Con­di­tion­ing and Heat Pumps Tech­ni­cal Op­tions Com­mit­tee,2010 of Mon­treal Pro­to­col.The Pro­to­col is an in­ter­na­tional treaty de­signed to pro­tect the ozone layer by phas­ing out sub­stances, in­clud­ing ozone-de­plet­ing coolants (see ‘The gas game’, Down To Earth, Septem­ber 1630, 2013). Ac­cord­ing to the re­port of this com­mit­tee, “Cryo­genic fuel-based re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tems of­fer low noise,re­duced main­te­nance and out­stand­ing re­frig­er­a­tion per­for­mance (fast pull-down), which make them ex­cel­lent sys­tems for ve­hi­cles serv­ing lo­cal dis­tri­bu­tion chains.”

But are cryo­genic fu­els re­ally so in­nocu­ous? An anal­y­sis by Delhi-based non-profit Cen­tre for Sci­ence and En­vi­ron­ment (cse) shows oth­er­wise.

Dirty past of cryo­genic fu­els

Emis­sion fac­tor for a fuel is the amount of CO2 emit­ted while pro­duc­ing and burn­ing one unit of fuel. Though the emis­sion fac­tor for cer­tain fu­els, such as diesel and petrol, are pretty much con­stant across the world, be­cause of their stan­dard ex­trac­tion process, the fac­tor varies quite a lot for elec­tric­ity and de­pends on whether it is gen­er­ated from ther­mal power plants or by us­ing re­new­able sources. So ev­ery coun­try has its own emis­sion fac­tor for elec­tric­ity, based on the per­cent­age of re­new­able con­tri­bu­tion to the coun­try’s power need.

Ac­cord­ing to cse, the new re­frig­er­a­tion tech­nol­ogy that uses cryo­genic fu­els would be car­bon-ef­fi­cient only if the elec­tric­ity used to man­u­fac­ture the fu­els is re­new­able.In the UK,where around one-third of the elec­tric­ity is gen­er­ated from coal,the tech­nol­ogy could be marginally bet­ter than con­ven­tional fu­els. But emis­sion fac­tor for cryo­genic fu­els man­u­fac­tured in In­dia would be very high—about 80 per cent higher than that of cryo­genic fu­els man­u­fac­tured in the UK— be­cause most of the elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated in the coun­try still comes from ther­mal power plants (see ‘Yes for UK,no for In­dia’).

Ex­pen­sive for In­dia

Dear­man is in­ter­ested in sell­ing the trucks to In­dia. Although it has ad­mit­ted that the tech­nol­ogy is not vi­able for In­dian con­di­tions, it says it is pin­ning its hopes on the fu­ture as it fore­sees economies mov­ing to­wards re­new­able en­ergy.

Even then, Dear­man may not find a lu­cra­tive mar­ket for its trucks in In­dia. Un­like the Western world, re­frig­er­a­tion for preser­va­tion of food is not a popular prac­tice in In­dia. For in­stance, in the West, meat is pro­cessed, re­frig­er­ated and trans­ported, while in In­dia, cat­tle are trans­ported alive and then slaugh­tered to pre­pare meat for cook­ing. Vegetables are mostly con­sumed lo­cally.

The tech­nol­ogy is also not eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble for In­dia.To power the re­frig­er­a­tion unit for one hour, 30 litres of cryo­genic fuel would be needed. With one litre cost­ing ` 25, an hour of re­frig­er­a­tion would cost

` 750. Pow­er­ing a re­frig­er­a­tion unit for an hour with diesel would re­quire 3 litres of it, which would cost around ` 180.

Ashok Mir­chan­dani, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Car­rier (Asia Pa­cific), says, In­dia has a lot of scope for de­vel­op­ing cool­ing tech­nolo­gies. De­vel­oped coun­tries have around 1,500 re­frig­er­a­tor trucks per mil­lion pop­u­la­tion, West Asian na­tions have 300, Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries have 100 to 150, China has 20 whereas In­dia has only five, he adds. Ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try es­ti­mates, ap­prox­i­mately 104 mil­lion tonnes of per­ish­able pro­duce is trans­ported be­tween ci­ties in In­dia each year. Of this, only 4 mil­lion tonnes is trans­ported by re­frig­er­ated mode.

In­stead of tak­ing chances over cryo­genic-based cool­ing tech­nol­ogy, In­dia must go for com­pletely green tech­nolo­gies like am­mo­nia-based re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tems and so­lar re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tems, says Prab­hat Ran­jan, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Tech­nol­ogy In­for­ma­tion, Fore­cast­ing and As­sess­ment Coun­cil (tifac).“In­dia be­ing a trop­i­cal coun­try with abun­dant sun­light, ex­plor­ing so­lar re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tems would be ideal as it is com­pletely green,” he sug­gests.

In­dia be­ing a trop­i­cal coun­try with abun­dant sun­light, ex­plor­ing so­lar re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tems would be ideal as it is com­pletely green

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