A report from Dearman has suggested the environmental challenge caused by booming global demand for cooling could be far greater than previously thought.

The report indicates that due to changing demographics, particularly in Asia, the number of refrigerated vehicles on the road could feasibly reach 15.5 million by 2025, up from less than 3 million in 2013.

If changing demographics have the most dramatic foreseeable effect then this number could be as high as 18 million refrigerated vehicles on the road by 2025 – which is double previous estimates.

This rapid expansion in cold transportation reflects the growth of more affluent lifestyles amongst increasingly wealthy, urbanised populations in countries such as India and China. As these populations grow, it’s necessary to install cold chains to ensure more food reaches consumers in good condition, in order to prevent hunger and rising prices. It is also an indicator of much broader demand for cooling as economies grow and countries address issues such as food loss and public health.

But if this growth in demand occurs without new technologies being introduced, the environmental effects could be devastating. A conventional diesel powered transport refrigeration unit, which keeps a refrigerated lorry cold, can emit up to six times as much NOx and up to 29 times as much particulate matter as a modern diesel HGV engine.

Discussing the report, Toby Peters, Dearman’s Senior Group managing director said, “The potential growth of the global transport refrigeration fleet is frightening. In order to reduce food loss, meet growing middle class demand and address hunger, it’s obvious that more comprehensive cold chains are needed. But we must not create an environmental disaster to prevent a social crisis.”

“By thinking smarter about cold, delivering new infrastructure and enabling clean cold technologies to flourish we can meet international demand without causing irreparable damage.”

He added, “Our research has analysed potential growth in the market for transport refrigeration vehicles as an indicator of the booming demand for cold. We are not predicting that the global fleet will reach 18 or even 15 million vehicles. But our report demonstrates that the industry could experience extremely rapid growth and we must be prepared. If we aren’t, and if we allow growth to happen using yesterday’s technology rather than tomorrow’s, then the air quality and climate change implications would be very significant and extremely damaging.”

This report follows recent studies by the IMechE (A Tank of Cold: Cleantech Leapfrog to a More Food Secure World) and the Carbon Trust (The emerging Cold Economy), which also identify the rapidly growing future demand for cooling, along with the opportunity to establish a new industry to provide alternative clean cold technologies.

The Dearman transport refrigeration system, an alternative to today’s highly polluting transport refrigeration units, is currently undergoing on-vehicle testing, and is performing well. Commercial field trials are set to begin later this year.

Dearman’s zero-emission transport refrigeration system has been designed to deliver significant reductions in operating cost and fuel usage, at low capital cost. It will enable operators to grow their fleets without increasing emissions or compromising their operations.