Hot Facts About the Cold Chain
By Hannah Sieber, Co-Founder and CEO of Artyc
[The cold what? A brief background for anyone who hasn’t heard the term “cold chain” before: the cold chain is the system of storing & transporting temperature-sensitive goods throughout the supply chain. These goods may travel from a manufacturing site to a distribution center, to grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, pharmacies, and labs.]
Fact 1: One in two medical products ships on the cold chain.
The cold chain is all around us in invisible ways. It’s what enables our vaccines to reach communities around the world, our pharmaceutical scientists, doctors, and researchers to develop life-saving drugs, and fresh produce, meat, seafood, milk, and other dairy products to be shared globally. If you have ever used a grocery delivery service, you may have had the cold chain arrive at your door in the form of handfuls of gel packs used to keep your product cool. Without the cold chain, our lives would look quite different.
In fact, the cold chain is growing so rapidly that one in two medical products will ship using the cold chain this year.
Fact 2: We’re doing a mediocre job of keeping products “alive” on the cold chain.
Since the goal of the cold chain transport is to keep products at a stable temperature, one metric for judging the effectiveness of our systems is the spoilage rate of products. According to the World Health Organization, 50% of vaccines are wasted each year and “bad management is a primary cause of unopened vials being discarded because of expiry, heat exposure, and freezing in the cold chain” (World Health Organization). To put that in perspective, of the 11.2 billion COVID-19 doses manufactured in 2021 (World Economic Forum), a 50% spoilage rate would be over 5.5 billion doses. At a conservative $20 a dose, for example (the average price per dose ranges wildly by vaccine manufacturer and location), that’s $110B dollars of spoilage cost in one year alone.
Spoilage along the cold chain is a problem across all types of products, and across all temperature needs. Spoilage can happen from natural disasters extending transit times beyond the anticipated duration of the cold shipping method, mechanical failures of refrigerated trucks & warehouses leading to unexpected thawing, energy outages leaving cold rooms unpowered, capacity constraints leading to supply outpacing cold room availability, and human errors in packing, loading & shipping along the cold chain.
The International Institute of Refrigeration estimates that 12% of total food production spoils due to cold chain failure (International Institute of Refrigeration). Their most recent 2021 report estimates that 526 million tons of refrigerated food was lost (International Institute of Refrigeration). Compounding the negative impact, upstream food waste contributes to food insecurity; according to the Rockefeller Foundation “solving for food spoilage would feed 1 billion more people by 2050” (Source).
And that leads us to emissions…
Fact 3: The cold chain accounts for 1% of global GHG emissions (Source).
While the global cold chain produces approximately 1% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, its rate of emission percentage in developed economies is even higher – in the UK, cold chain emissions are 3% of its GHG emissions (Source).
When you combine food spoilage and refrigerant emissions, the estimates are in the billions of tons.
Food spoilage accounts for 3.3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent emissions; if food spoilage were a country, it would rank as our third GHG emitter globally, after the US and China (FAO). Meanwhile, the improper disposal of refrigerants is responsible for 89 billion tons of CO2-equivalent emissions (Project Drawdown via GreenBiz).
The incredibly emissions-intensive cold chain process is expected to grow double digits in the next five years, driven by demand for fresh product and temperature-sensitive drug development. At Artyc we’re developing a better solution to refrigerated trucks and refrigerated warehouses.
Fact 4: Zero Emission solutions are limited
Today hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are the most common type of refrigerant. HFCs became widely adopted after the Montreal Protocol phased out ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFS). HFCs range in their global warming potential (GWP) and can be more than 1000x more potent than carbon dioxide.
Nowadays, several lower GWP HFCs refrigerants exist, although their impact is often still more than 4x carbon dioxide. Lower GWP HFCs still wreak havoc on our environment from leakage and improper disposal. Alternatives like ammonia, which has been favored by a select handful of companies due to its low GWP, require an energy and pollution intensive process to manufacture and poses health hazards when exposed at high quantities. Its high flammability and noxious fumes cause severe problems when leaks occur. Tyson has had several ammonia leaks at its facilities in the last two years: in Kansas, Tennessee, and Ohio; more recently, a leak at a at Brookshire grocery chain led to several injuries.
At Artyc we’re building refrigerant-free battery-powered cooling systems for long duration cold storage & shipping. Our products have active cooling on board so customers can keep products cool in transit – no matter disruptions – and our products transform into additional cold storage capacity wherever, whenever. We help customers monitor their emissions and plans their routes accordingly.
At Artyc, we’re focused on the climate, companies, and the community. We’re improving the planet (high energy efficiency, no refrigerants), improving operations (safe-to-use, cost competitive), and improving access (reducing food & vaccine spoilage, preventing interactions with hazardous chemicals).
Reach out to learn more – we’d love to share.
Disclosure: MCJ Collective is an investor in Artyc. We invited Hannah to share her perspective here to foster more learning and collaboration around this important topic, which is what MCJ is all about.
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