Challenge winner builds solar cold storage to prevent food waste
The Coldbox Store team including Sochima Nwafor (left), Uzochukwu Mbamalu, Charles Aliozo and Adekoyejo Kuye. The project won the 2021 Renewable Transformation Challenge. (Photo © Benson Ibeabuchi/GG Images/RA)
Food waste is a significant driver in climate change: 6% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of food that is never eaten. This waste creates a vicious cycle of more extreme climate, which makes food production more difficult and exacerbates poverty, malnutrition and inequality.
Throughout 2020, colleagues at Manamuz Electric spent lockdown in Enugu State, Nigeria, tackling this problem, spending hour after hour in their lab trying to get the details right. We often hear about “building back greener” from the pandemic as a political slogan, but for the engineer who cofounded Manamuz, Uzochukwu Mbamalu, this was a reality.
The story began when he was a teenager.
“At university, I was 19 years old and went to work for a solar company in Nigeria called Nayo Tropical Technologies,” he recalled. “I had a great boss who taught me the basics.”
In his first project, solar power was used for hospital construction, an early example of renewable energy being used to improve public health.
recently, Engr Mbamalu said his colleagues “have strongly believed that if we can build a sustainable cold chain that eliminates post-harvest losses, it would transform African food systems.”
Engr Mbamalu’s vision was informed by his introduction to Walmart’s distribution network in 2018 as a Mandela Washington Fellow. There he saw the American food giant’s use of reliable cold chains to ensure that millions of people get fresh produce at consistent quality. This experience stuck with him.
When Manamuz Electric’s solar installation business ground to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, they decided to FOCUS on something they “really believed in,” Engr Mbamalu said.
But lockdown also brought significant pressure for them to have a workable product that could recover their costs. Plus they had lots to learn, being unfamiliar with the fundamental technologies used in cooling.
Still, they pressed ahead. “The more we worked on it, the more our commitment was strengthened as we were learning a lot and seeing results,” Engr Mbamalu said.
In Africa, food is wasted as people go hungry
Across Africa, the amount of food that goes to waste could feed 300 million people. Half the fruits and vegetables produced in Nigeria are never consumed due to post-harvest losses, while poor storage conditions often reduce what farmers can charge for their products.
Knock-on health issues are also prevalent — the consumption of unhygienic food that has not been properly stored is common, contributing to the sobering statistic from the World Health Organization that about 200,000 people die each year from foodborne pathogens in Nigeria.
The cool solution to Africa’s burning problem
Manamuz Electric’s solution, Coldbox Store, set out to address these problems by helping rural farmers maximize the value of their produce, and reducing the environmental impacts of their work. They do this by harnessing the power of the equatorial sun, normally causing food to perish rapidly, and converting that power into electricity for cooling and refrigeration — “the cool solution to Africa’s burning problem.” In doing so, Coldbox Store can increase the shelf life of fresh produce, from two to 21 days in the case of tomatoes.
But getting embedded into the production, distribution and sale of food is not easy — it’s a competitive market that is simultaneously traditional and modernizing rapidly. Solar power integration and Smart technology is opening possibilities in smallholder farmer’s markets which have long-standing practices that are hard to change, and where there are financial challenges to participate in high tech-based ways of working.
According to Engr Mbamalu, “a lot of farmers we work with do not believe you can improve shelf life and maintain the quality of fruits and vegetables with cooling. So it took and is still taking a lot of customer education.” In addition, there are challenges of funding, and raising their profile to attract partners.
Entering the Renewable Transformation Challenge
With these factors in mind, Engr Mbamalu submitted a proposal to the Renewable Transformation Challenge (RTC).
The RTC, launched in 2017, is the result of a partnership between Elsevier’s Energy and Earth Journals group and the International Solar Energy Society (ISES). It aims to honor and showcase outstanding work that actively supports the transformation to a world powered by renewable energy. The RTC’s €20,000 prize is awarded to support work that has potential to widen access to energy, particularly in developing countries.
This year, over 85 entries were received from around the world. They were scored for applicability, impact, sustainability and scalability by an Elsevier-ISES Awards Committee drawn from academia, publishing and the nonprofit and private sectors. After 10 candidates were shortlisted, the committee selected Coldbox Store as the final winner by unanimous decision. What impressed the judges of the RTC — among them ISES President Prof Klaus Vajen, Director of the Institute of Thermal Engineering at the University of Kassel, Germany — was the “innovative and replicable” nature of their work “to address food waste through solar energy technologies.”
Engr Mbamalu’s team members were the first African winners of the RTC. Their mission to build the continent’s largest network of solar-powered cold storage solutions continues now with the support of the RTC.
The Coldbox Store team will FOCUS on collaborating with mini-grid developers, farmers, food aggregators, food processors, and food businesses that need a consistent supply to bring fresh, and hygienic food to plates in and beyond Nigeria and ensure that far less is wasted.
In their work and that of the Coldbox Store team, we see how energy access can deliver immediate health benefits for people while addressing climate change. When the award was announced, Dr Peter Harrison, Senior VP of Physical Sciences Journals at Elsevier, commented on the broad impact of this project:
Coldbox Store demonstrates powerfully how addressing climate change through renewable energy transformations can lead to positive changes in so many other ways: lifting people out of poverty; reducing waste; and feeding those in need.
The Renewable Transformation Challenge will return in 2023 to support more work that drives progress towards a world powered by renewable energy and with accessible energy for all.
As Senior Publisher for renewable and sustainable energy journals at Elsevier, Adam Fraser publishes research advancing our understanding of clean and affordable energy for all in journals such as Renewable Energy and Solar Energy. Adam previously worked as a publisher for psychology and cognitive sciences, having joined Elsevier from Wiley in 2014. He lives in London.
Refrigerated warehouses have one of the highest electric energy consumption rates in the commercial building sector.
The constant refrigeration of foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and other temperature-sensitive goods typically accounts for more than 70% of the overall electricity usage for cold storage facilities, so energy management and optimisation will always remain a key priority.
That’s where we can help. With our 30 years of combined experience behind us here at Low Carbon, we’re able to help you optimise your energy usage with a bespoke solar panel installation that’s tailored to your requirements and individual energy profile, helping you realise significant savings on one of your highest operating expenses.
Why Use Solar Panels For Your Cold Storage Facilities?
A bespoke solar panel installation can help deliver significant cost savings – often into the thousands of pounds – while also providing a range of further benefits, such as helping you to increase your energy independence and security, thereby future-proofing your business against steadily rising energy prices.
Solar panels also provide a reliable and effective way to reduce your carbon emissions output, which is often a challenge with facilities that require a near-constant supply of energy. This carbon emissions reduction can not only help you meet your own sustainability targets, but also help attract new investors and customers in an increasingly environmentally-conscious age.
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Solar and linear generators cut carbon at California cold storage facility
Lineage Logistics moves closer to achieving net-zero carbon by 2040 through innovative use of EVs, energy efficiency measures, linear generators paired with solar, and more.
Lineage Logistic rooftop solar installation.
Image: Lineage Logistics
Corporations in the United States have installed nearly 19 GW of on-site and off-site solar capacity, and more than half of that was installed in just the last three years. According to the Solar Means Business 2022 report by the Solar Energy Industries Association, on-site commercial solar has averaged a steady 3% growth over the last five years. Target, Walmart, Amazon and real estate firm, Prologis, make up the top 4 companies for solar installed on site. Lineage Logistics was named as number five, and it caught our eye because it had more on-site solar installations since 2020 than any other company on the list, with 87.2 MW installed and more on the way.
Lineage Logistics got its start as a cold storage company back in 2009, when it had just one warehouse location. Now it is the world’s largest temperature-controlled industrial real estate investment trust and logistics solutions provider. It has a global network of over 430 facilities totaling over 2 billion cubic feet of capacity, which spans 20 countries across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. With an eye on the future, the company has a plan for a net-zero carbon future by 2040, ten years ahead of the Paris Agreement.
As a cold storage company, Lineage Logistics is a big consumer of energy, and the company feels a responsibility to lead by example. pv magazine USA spoke with Chris Thurston, director of energy and sustainability at Lineage Logistics who explained that rather than buying carbon offsets or buying into other projects, Lineage decided to look at where the company’s emissions were coming from: fuel for its transportation and electricity to keep its facilities cold.
In addition to solar, Lineage is using linear generators from Mainspring Energy. These generators use a low-temperature reaction of fuel and air to create electricity. Thurston said Lineage had chosen Mainspring linear generator technologies over batteries because the linear generators provide continuous power. The goal for these units is for them to work in conjunction with solar arrays to ensure reliability and optimal use of the sun’s energy at all times, the reducing the facility’s dependence on the grid and protecting its customers’ products in the event that the grid goes down.
“We believe that the best starting point was to generate as much clean power on site, and solar seems to be the best way to do that,” Thurston said.
He said the company had been looking at various technologies and they liked Mainspring Energy’s linear generators for several reasons. One is that it ramps up and ramps down with solar, so as to not export, which he said is a requirement by the utilities.
“Most other generators are either on or off the set the ability to ramp up and ramp down to handle those swing periods when the solar stops generating overnight”, Thurston said.
The second thing Lineage liked about it was that it is fuel agnostic and could easily be swapped out with zero emission fuels like hydrogen and ammonia. Thurston said they also liked the fact that the generators could continuously generate overnight.
“It’s currently still using natural gas, but we’ve had a lot of breakthroughs in green hydrogen and other fuels over time. We’re confident that within the next decade or so that those clean fuels will be readily available in our site. “
In the U.S. alone, Lineage has more than 108 MW of on-site solar installations across its network with its on-site solar installation producing enough energy to fulfill about 40% of the facilities energy needs. Thurston said they have had a lot of success with solar, beginning with a regional approach, tackling market by market, “and it’s accumulated into something pretty great”.
Colton solar install
Lineage’s Colton, Calif. facility is an example of the combined use of solar and linear generators. The company reports that it was the first facility of its kind to pair a linear generator with solar panels, and also the first to install two linear generators.
Looking to the future, Lineage has plans to add solar to even more of its facilities around the world. The company also plans to expand its use of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure to be used on site, as well as by its customers.
Thurston sees clean energy as great optics for the company’s customers, “They’re continuously asking us to do more from a sustainability perspective, they want clean buildings, they want to be doing more for the environment, and they want to see meaningful steps on our behalf, you know, in that direction. “
Lineage continues to push the envelope on these issues, Thurston noted. “We view ourselves as innovators in the industry to show folks that clean energy can work and is reliable.”
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Anne Fischer is a senior editor at pv magazine USA. Anne is a seasoned writer, editor, and journalist.
Solar Energy Solution For Cold Storage
Due to a combination of factors, including an unstable market and a lack of facilities to preserve agricultural products for a longer period, Indian farmers have always battled to reduce the wastage of their produce. According to estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization, food loss in South and Southeast Asia is approximately 40%.
This has serious ramifications for India, where more than 80% of farmers are small landholders who are barely able to generate enough annual revenue.
Air-conditioned warehouses where perishable products can be stored are one approach to cutting down on waste. However, there are numerous problems with this as well. Rural areas have an inconsistent power supply with frequent power cuts. It has also been discovered that energy expenses account for up to 30% of the entire cost of cold storage.
As a result, India has only a few cold storage warehouses. Solar-powered cold storage, on the other hand, has just begun to gain popularity in rural areas.
Electricity: A Chief Requirement for Cold Storage
After the logistics, the second most expensive operating component of a cold storage investment is electricity.
Bacteria and other microorganisms infest the food, causing it to deteriorate. The activity of these creatures increases as the temperature rises. To maintain the temperature as low as possible. These freezer units require round-the-clock power.
To meet these requirements many business owners use diesel generators, which are not only expensive but also a major source of pollution.
Furthermore, the cost of power is always rising. Also, with the rise in crude oil prices. Diesel is also quite expensive. As a result, store owners have high operating expenses, which in turn affects food prices.
How Solar-Powered Cold Storage can be the Solution
To understand how solar-powered cold storage can help solve this problem and lower the cost factor for the end-user, we must first understand how it works. The whole work scenario of solar cold storage is divided into two parts: On-Grid solar-powered cold storage Off-Grid solar-powered cold storage.
The on-grid systems work in conjunction with the grid and do not require any energy storage solutions. Most of the large-size cold storage facilities are on-grid systems. Off-grid storage systems are independent of the grid, and use battery backup to store energy. A large number of small and medium size cold storage facilities employ off-grid solar systems.
Types of Solar-Powered Cold Storage
Based on the size and capacity of the solar-powered cold storage, we can divide them into 3 categories:
Solar-powered small cold storage: used for personal or individual purposes Solar-powered medium cold storage: used for small groups or at the community level. Solar-powered large cold storage: used for large-scale businesses
Solar-powered cold storage technology is of prime significance in efforts to cut post-harvest losses
Published January 15, 2023 4:00PM (EST)
Cherry tomatoes in green plastic crate (Getty Images/Emilija Manevska)
This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Feeding Africa’s growing population is a big development challenge for governments, policy makers and agriculture experts. Adding to the challenge is the high level of food loss and waste that most small-scale farmers experience.
The African Postharvest Losses Information System reports indicate that countries in Africa waste more than 30% of fresh fruits and vegetables through inefficient post-harvest management. The impact of this loss and waste is severe on smallholders who rely on farming for a living. The Rockefeller Foundation has warned that inefficient post-harvest infrastructure could cause millions of agriculture-dependent households in Africa to fall back into extreme poverty.
The region urgently needs solutions to reduce food loss and waste.
Tanzania is one of the countries that experience this problem. The East African nation is an agriculture-based economy, with small-scale farmers dominating the sector. Most small-scale farmers live in areas where access to electricity is limited. As a result, they don’t have cold storage facilities for their fresh vegetables and fruits. With a lack of cold storage, nearly 30% of fresh produce in Tanzania perish before they get to consumers. For fresh tomatoes, as much as 50% is lost before reaching markets due to poor storage conditions.
Recently, solar-powered cold storage facilities have emerged as a potential solution. These facilities are already benefiting thousands of farmers and traders in Nigeria, but they are not reaching many others across sub-Saharan Africa.
In my recent research, I examined what was holding back progress. Focusing on tomato farming in Kilolo district in southeast Tanzania, I spoke to farmers, solar energy experts and policy experts to explore what needs to be done to improve access to cold storage facilities. I found that the barriers to uptake were limited awareness, the cost of the technology, farmers’ low capacity to pay and consumer preference for non-refrigerated food. Practical policy interventions would include incentives to attract investment, payment flexibility to make technology more affordable and greater awareness of the benefits of cold storage.
What causes tomato losses
Tomato production has huge agribusiness potential in Tanzania. However, small-scale farmers are confronted with several post-harvest management challenges.
In my interactions with farmers, I noticed that most tomatoes got damaged soon after harvesting due to poor handling, lack of proper storage and the use of motorbikes to transport tomatoes from farms to distant wholesale markets.
Due to a lack of storage facilities, farmers without pre-orders kept their harvest in a shaded open space while waiting for buyers. Some reported treating matured tomatoes with chemicals to delay ripening while waiting for buyers, or they simply delayed harvesting them. When the rain comes, most tomatoes get spoiled very quickly. As a result of all these factors, post-harvest tomato losses could be as high as 60%.
Solar-powered cold storage technology
Tanzania has made significant progress in increasing access to solar energy technologies for rural populations. About 70% of rural households use appliances powered by solar, but high investment costs remain the most significant barrier to uptake.
A solar expert told me a 40-foot solar-powered cold storage facility could cost about US20,000 to set up. Given that most small-scale farmers are low-income earners, such a facility is beyond their means. As a result of small market share and the significant upfront costs involved, solar companies have been reluctant to venture into the cold storage technology business, added this solar expert. The capital cost constraint is also linked to poor financing for renewable energy programs. In several parts of Africa, including Tanzania, insufficient foreign direct investment for solar energy projects has been identified as a major impediment to market growth.
Solar-powered technologies are a clean energy solution with environmental benefits, but they are rarely promoted; marketing is poor. In Tanzania, my interactions with farmers and traders revealed that the vast majority of the potential market had no basic knowledge of solar-powered cold storage. They were interested in using the technology to minimize losses during harvest season, but they weren’t sure how it would affect their business earnings. They needed more information.
Farmers and traders also expressed concerns about whether their regular clients would be willing to buy chilled or refrigerated tomatoes. I was surprised to hear that this was a potential problem. According to these farmers, most consumers in Tanzania prefer freshly harvested tomatoes. One said:
Distant buyers from Dar es Salaam, Tanga or Dodoma sometimes opt to come straight to the farm and pick the tomatoes they want; usually, they prefer and want you to harvest those that are in the green stage so that they don’t spoil during transportation. These kinds of buyers will not buy tomatoes that have been stored in cold storage facility.
Experts suggested that this concern could stem from limited exposure to chilled and frozen foods among local populations in Africa. Solar service providers would need to be aware of this market reality.
Solar-powered cold storage technology is of prime significance in Africa’s efforts to cut post-harvest losses and attain food security, as outlined in the African Union Malabo Declaration, but costs and affordability make it very challenging for African-based solar service providers. Private sector participation will be needed to increase financing and investment for cold storage technologies in emerging markets such as Tanzania. This can only be realized under a supportive regulatory environment and innovative policy incentives that attract capital.
The good news is that in the last few years, private financing for renewable energy programs in developing countries has more than doubled. The opportunities are opening up for African-based solar companies and their potential market.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.