Cold chain: a new challenge for sustainable road freight

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The objective of this review paper is to inform the ground setting for logistics and transportation studies and aid the development of cold chain modelling and simulation. We have covered the background literature, explored how the topic been framed by different sectors, and highlighted the potential impact to sustainable road freight development. We discovered that cold chain as a new research agenda is well supported by multiple stakeholders involving international governments, academics and industries (UKERC 2021). While governments and industries are particularly interested in expanding wider adoption of refrigeration to address socio-economic objectives, for instance quality of life and food waste, the increasing negative impacts of the cold chain has been highlighted (Peters 2018). Transport refrigeration technological development has been explored mostly from the food and agriculture sciences and thermal and energy engineering research communities. We wish to fill the gap for the logistics and transportation.

Cold chain logistics system comprises of four linked system components: pre-cooling, warehouse refrigeration, refrigerated transport, and retail/catering/domestic refrigeration (Mercier et al 2017). The unique element of the system is the controlled-temperature parameter which require extra energy to power the system. Taking example in food cold chain in UK, the system has been characterised by three aspects: higher cost (than ambient-temperature products), higher (food hygiene standard) safety requirements, and strong partnership among the actors, and was considered to have similar basic supply configuration to those ordinary retail distribution channel (Smith and Sparks 2004). The increasing climate change agenda (James and James 2010) and the reliance of the non-renewable energy of the system (Tassou et al 2009), require a holistic approach to response to the transition of a sustainable system. Thus, supply chain system as part of energy system and links to hubs and transportation network.

Why UK cold chain research interesting? UK has been identified by the International Institute of Refrigeration as one of few countries using predominantly renewable resources (Sarr et al 2021). In addition to that, a long-established industrial association and trade network, Cold Chain Federation, has begun a series of consultations to address net-zero cold chain agenda (2021a). While the vision of zero emission refrigerated trailer was clear (Cold Chain Federation 2021b), the operational logistics dynamics have been acknowledged challenging. We have revisited our previous studies with strong synergies to cold chain and confirmed the complexity of food value systems (at the first mile) as much as electric vehicle operations (at the last mile) and anything in between. We envisage the importance of complete system modelling where interdependent interaction between each cold chain component can be studied and used to inform strategic decision planning and policy making. A logistics system network using UK cold chain case study will be used to inform the model set up.


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Sarr J, Dupont JL, Guilpart J. 2021. “The Carbon Footprint of The Cold Chain”. 7th Informatory Note on Refrigeration and Food. Informatory Note on Refrigeration and Food. Institut International Du Froid - International Institute of Refrigeration (IIF-IIR), Paris.

Smith D, Sparks L. 2004. “Temperature Controlled Supply Chains”. In: Bourlakis M, Weightman PWH (eds) Food Supply Chain Management. Blackwell Publishing, Bodmin, Cornwall, pp 179-198.

Tassou SA, De-Lille G, Ge YT. 2009. “Food transport refrigeration - Approaches to reduce energy consumption and environmental impacts of road transport”. Applied Thermal Engineering 29:1467-1477.

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2022
Event9th International Workshop on Sustainable Road Freight 2022 - Online Conference
Duration: 12 Dec 202214 Dec 2022


Workshop9th International Workshop on Sustainable Road Freight 2022
Internet address


  • Cold chain
  • Sustainability
  • Transportation
  • Logistics


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