As World Refrigeration Day approaches, Ed Whinyates of Stonegrove Refrigeration backs the call to shout more about what we do.
When I am asked by someone outside of the refrigeration industry what I do for a living, one of the first things people say is “… so you sell fridges?” Like a tall person being asked “what’s the weather like up there?” I politely laugh along. However it has me thinking about the disservice to our industry. Modern living relies heavily on refrigeration; people wouldn’t question the important role of fridges, freezers and air conditioners. But refrigeration appears to be taken for granted and undervalued. The big question has to be why?
It is estimated that the total number of refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump systems in operation worldwide is roughly 3 billion. These are spread across many sectors of industry and society.
The sector that most people will have probably experienced refrigeration for is food and beverages. Whether it is the chilled and frozen aisles in the supermarket, or a domestic refrigerator, you will be hard pressed to find an adult or child in the western world that hasn’t been exposed to refrigeration in one form or another. But this doesn’t even get close to the amount of refrigeration required to keep perishable goods from spoiling. Fresh product from abroad has to be stored within temperature controlled facilities.
There is also the transportation of product (be it by land, sea or air) that needs to be temperature controlled – and this can only be achieved by refrigeration. Even before it gets anywhere near a supermarket, a vast amount of processed and manufactured food material needs refrigeration. Both during the making and preparing of the product, and for its storage post-production, refrigeration is fundamental in maintaining food safety and nutritional qualities.
Flowers, plants and bulbs also need refrigeration. It is no coincidence that on certain days of the year (and the week or so leading up to it) that the shops are flooded with bouquets of flowers from suppliers. They are carefully grown and maintained in a proper environment, underpinned by the cold chain of refrigeration.
Another area that impacts on people’s day to day lives is within the healthcare sector. Refrigeration preserves pharmaceuticals and medicines. These include - but are not limited to - vaccines, blood, insulin, transplant organs and the freezing of human embryos. Research and development has also benefitted from refrigeration. Treatments, such as cryosurgery or cryotherapy, were developed due to ultra-low temperature technologies.
Refrigeration is also at the heart of science and major scientific projects. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator – uses a 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets maintained at -271.3°C thanks to superfluid helium; this gives access to the high energies needed to test fundamental theories of particle physics. Even up in space, satellites require cryogenic cooling and refrigeration. The scientific search for limitless energy at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) requires temperature control. This machine uses very large superconducting magnets and cryopumps which are cooled to assist performance. Even smaller unusual experiments have benefitted from refrigeration - such as the clever use of refrigeration to fight bee colony collapse.
Major sectors of industry need refrigeration in many forms. For example, in chemical and petrochemical industries, large scale cooling plants are used in their processes. The control of temperature is an important factor in reaching high efficiency in their transformations. Distillations, crystallizations or condensations are operations requiring the removal of heat - so refrigeration systems are necessary to obtain their products. The plastic and building industries also need refrigeration.
Data centres need refrigeration. Since servers and other equipment do not perform very well in extreme temperatures, most data centres have huge cooling and air flow systems. All IT networks need a data centre, so the growth and daily use of computer data storage is reliant on maintaining temperature.
There are other areas of daily life that rely on refrigeration, ranging from the comfort cooling of buildings, leisure facilities and sporting stadiums, through to air-con in transport (cars, trains, aeroplanes etc.). People wouldn’t be able to experience winter sports in snowdomes and ice rinks without refrigeration.
Because of all of all of these sectors (as well as others I haven’t got the space to mention here), we cannot underestimate the major and increasing role that refrigeration plays in today’s global economy. It is also estimated that circa 12 million people are employed worldwide in the refrigeration sector so, economically, the importance of refrigeration is paramount.
There are people within the refrigeration who are trying to promote and get more recognition for this important, and quite frankly, brilliant industry. A good example of this is World Refrigeration Day – the first of which will be celebrated on June 26.
Refrigeration is now an essential part of our daily life, and ingrained in everything we do, so why not shout about it a bit more? And if I can get my kids to read this article then maybe they’ll stop telling people “my Dad is a fridge salesman”!