Moving businesses towards net zero


13 April 2023
Catarina Marques of London South Bank University

Catarina Marques, Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Transport, Industrial and Commercial Refrigeration Project at London South Bank University, outlines the aims of the two-year collaboration.

The Climate Change Act commits the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050. This includes hard to abate areas such as refrigeration where the cooling demand is expected to increase with more frequent extreme heat events, and warmer average temperatures. 

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) estimates that refrigeration accounts for 6% of UK industrial electricity use, however there is large uncertainty in this figure. Refrigeration enables the safe provision of food and pharmaceuticals and reliable supply of IT infrastructure. Besides cooling for thermal comfort, common applications include domestic, transport, commercial and industrial refrigeration: in particular food and drink manufacturing, chemical and pharmaceuticals and cooling of electronic products in datacentres. 

Figure 1 (below) shows the applications of cooling and their associated technologies in buildings and transportation according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

A new academic and industrial collaboration is investigating real energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from the transport, industrial and commercial refrigeration (TICR) sectors in the UK. The consortium led by London South Bank University includes Star Technical Solutions, Carbon3IT, Carbon Trust, Carbon Limiting Technologies, the University of Birmingham and the Institute of Refrigeration. Our vision is to create a comprehensive data driven and whole systems approach to support decarbonisation strategy and policy within the sector. 

The two-year project is funded by DESNZ and will estimate scope 1 and 2 emissions from refrigeration, develop models and roadmaps for their mitigation, identify innovations, benchmarks and best practice and produce guidance and training for manufacturers, installers and end users. It is envisaged that this work will identify policy intervention opportunities for the wider sector and quantify their impact. The ultimate aim is to support the industry on its transition to net zero.

Refrigeration cooling demand and emissions

Refrigeration greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are either direct from leakage of refrigerants (scope 1 emissions) or indirect from the energy used to run the refrigeration units (scope 2 emissions). Worldwide the International Institute of Refrigeration estimated that 37% of GHG emissions from the sector are direct, whilst 63% are indirect. Accurate estimation of UK cooling demand and emissions requires wide access to both government and industry data. 

Data from three government sources: the National Air Emissions Inventory (NAEI) (aggregated direct emissions from refrigerant leakage across all refrigeration sectors), Energy consumption UK (ECUK) (energy consumption of industrial buildings and sectors where cooling is categorised as “refrigeration”) and non-domestic Building Energy Efficiency Survey (BEES) suggest that the emissions attributable to TICR were 8.3 MtCO2e, of which 5.2 MtCO2e were direct emissions. This figure is likely to be underestimated as it does not include energy consumption in transport refrigeration units, data centres or in the pharmaceutical industry. 

The ratio of direct/indirect emissions also suggest that energy consumption is widely unaccounted. The TICR consortium will undertake the first analysis comparing and contrasting data from several UK government databases to estimate scope 1 and 2 emissions from refrigeration. Data from the industry is welcomed for validation as the first step to reduce GHG emissions is to establish the baseline.

Innovations to reduce cooling emissions

Refrigeration is a mature industry, dominated by low cost vapour compressor technology, where most innovations are incremental. Adapting to the F-gas phase out of hydrofluorocarbons uses most of the development time of companies R&D departments. The TICR consortium will investigate a wide range of innovations looking at the technology newness and correspondent impact on the market, this includes incremental, sustaining and disruptive technologies. The analysis will include technological options, operational and whole building solutions and system integration opportunities as shown in Figure 2 below.

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Technological options

  • Different vapour-compression cycle configurations,
  • Novel cooling/refrigeration solutions (e.g. liquid cooling for Datacentres),
  • Application of phase-change materials,
  • Smart controls and machine learning

Whole building solutions

  • Building/equipment retrofit,
  • Improved insulation, coatings and airtightness for buildings
  • Specific equipment, e.g. display cabinets in retail and cold aisles in datacentres;

Operational solutions

  • Demand-side response through set-point control,
  • Energy storage and flexibility opportunities,
  • Process optimisation through pinch analysis,
  • Refrigerant alternatives and compressor efficiency.

System integration opportunities

  • Waste heat recovery,
  • Potential heat network connections,
  • Sector coupling via integration with renewable energy generation and electric vehicles.




For each innovation we will evaluate the GHG abatement potential, energy efficiency, cooling capacity, refrigerant type, technology readiness level (TRL, e.g. lab prototype, operating demonstrator, commercial deployment), payback period, barriers to adoption and wider economic opportunities. This information will feed into a modelling forecast of scope 1 and 2 emissions to 2050 and sector specific roadmaps. 
Innovation levers are key to facilitate sector-wide decarbonisation and achieve net zero and we will be carrying out interviews and workshops to gather feedback from end users, manufacturers, installers, academics and trade associations.


Benchmarks are a useful tool for end-users as it provides them an understanding of how their current energy use compares against another site/vehicle of similar size/capacity. The benchmarking (e.g. energy consumption per floor area, or tonnes of processed food, etc.) will involve developing energy efficiency metrics to indicate poor, average, good and best/aspirational practices for each end-use case. This categorisation will be based upon performance thresholds obtained from the data collected when estimating the emissions from the transport, industrial and commercial refrigeration sectors. Figure 3 (below) shows a Specific Energy Consumption calculator application developed by Star Refrigeration, which compares the performance of a given plant against other sites across the UK and Europe, providing advice on what sort of energy, carbon emissions and cost savings are possible by improving the energy efficiency of the site.

Resources for end user guidance

Roadmaps, benchmarking reports, sector-specific guidance, training materials and other publications will be added to the project website as they became available. The guidance documents will provide recommendations for manufacturers, installers and end users on best practices for refrigeration systems. The guides use benchmarking to provide an overview of the current energy use in each TICR sector and indicate how end-users can reduce their energy consumption and operational emissions to best practice levels by exploring the most impactful technological innovations identified.

The website provides an up-to-date repository of technical resources, articles and blogs relating to project activities and achievements, invitations to comment and consult on drafts and recordings of webinar presentations about the project. It also shows upcoming events where the TICR consortium will be presenting the project results.

How industry can get involved

The project welcomes input from anyone working in the sectors represented by our research. Whether you are a business owner, energy manager, refrigeration specialist, someone with responsibilities for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues or a researcher, NGO or trade association.

Ways of being involved include: offering sites for energy and emissions monitoring research, sharing energy consumption (data will be anonymised and aggregated), highlighting new technologies, peer reviewing drafts, reading and disseminating publications, adopting roadmaps internally and attending conferences, training sessions or online events. Please get in touch through: