Professor Toby Peters

Growing populations, rising ambient temperatures and the increasing frequency and severity of heat waves will demand much more sustainable cooling for health, food, productivity, data and, increasingly, even safe living. At the same time more than 1billion people do not have access to cooling and suffer the consequences.

Recent reports suggest that unchecked warming and absent mitigation will result by 2070 in 1-3 billion people being “exposed to mean annual temperatures warmer than nearly anywhere today,” How the world meets these challenges and provides cooling services for a growing number of people and uses will have important ramifications for climate, environment and economic productivity.

The provision of comprehensive Clean Cooling is a prerequisite for a sustainable and resilient future.  The sooner we recognise this fully and invest accordingly in the step-change interventions required to deliver access to environmentally and socially sustainable cooling for all who need it, the better the outcome for humans in the 21st Century.

Since 2015 and as an output of the University of Birmingham Policy Commission, we have been advocating a systems approach – “Clean Cooling” – to meet our cooling demand sustainably (economically socially and environmentally), considering all technical, socio-economic and environmental inputs, outputs, value chain steps and other aspects of providing cooling. A systems approach to cooling can be developed along a value chain with the following elements:

Systems Approach to Sustainable Cold


Planning Cold

Understand cooling (demand and supply) as an important factor in infrastructure planning; where to locate a data center or food aggregation hub, an LNG terminal; how to build a new city?

Key is to identify cooling service demands in a needs driven manner, taking full account of what would be required to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

Making Cold

Harness unused or “waste” resources such as cold-water bodies, “wrong time” renewable energy (wind, solar), waste cold (LNG) and heat, or ambient heat sinks (ground source, sky cooling).

Key is to explore opportunities to harness free cooling and synergies between processes, waste resources and cooling needs that can further reduce the required cooling requirement.

Storing Cold

Store energy thermally, in physical mass (think walls) or phase-change materials (ice) to make use of cyclical changes in ambient heat sinks and supply of (electric) energy at lower costs.

Key is to include e-vehicles and e-logistics; Cooling accounts for 6.4% of passenger transport energy consumption but could grow to 24-26% by 2050, as drive technologies improve, temperatures rise, and warmer regions motorize.

the sustainable cold chain

Moving Cold

Use new energy vectors and materials to move thermal energy, e.g. liquid air or nitrogen can be used for cooling and generate mechanical energy

Using Cold

Reduce cold loads by lowering cooling demand (insulation), increasing equipment efficiency, and substituting refrigerants with high GWP.