“Our cooling cart can reduce both food waste and emissions at scale”

Trane Technologies is a global leader in air conditioning systems, services and solutions for buildings and transportation. It is also the first company in the industry to achieve net zero carbon emission targets endorsed by the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). Trane Technologies recently launched an innovative cooling cart at Kolar in Bengaluru, which aims to combat food insecurity and global warming around the world. India-based VP & GM Wilson Lawrence and Chief Innovation Officer Zubin Varghese chat with Rajiv Tikoo about how this seemingly humble innovation seeks to address both global challenges at scale. Edited excerpts:

What prompted you to take the initiative to launch a refrigerated cart?

You will agree that it is absurd that approximately 1.3 billion people in the world experience food insecurity while approximately 30% of the food produced is lost or wasted. It includes a third of the loss due to street vendors due to lack of access to affordable cooling. Our cooling cart is a solution to reduce both food waste and emissions at scale.

So how is the Cooling Cart different from existing carts?

We looked at the basic means of food transport used at the local level: the cart. We are all familiar with a conventional cart, but there are also a few vendors who now use battery-operated solar-powered carts. What we realized quickly was that there must be an upgrade with a very passive solution. Fortunately, for some time we have been considering using what is called radioactive cooling. The second main feature of the trolley is that we made the canopy go up and down. Thus, at night, it boils down to becoming a closed box. It’s not only cooler, but also safe. It not only preserves, but also protects leftover vegetables.

What is radioactive cooling?

If you park your car outside during the day and then look at your windshield at night, there will be a lot of condensed water. This is because it radiates heat to the sky, which is always at low temperature. In ancient times, this phenomenon was used in Iran and elsewhere to make ice cream. Thus, the innovation consists in using it also during the day.

Zubin Varghese

How do you use radioactive cooling in carts?

A Californian company has already developed a film that essentially reflects about 97% of sunlight and also radiates that heat skyward. What we get with this film, which is stuck on any aluminum sheet, even on a surface like an awning, is that the temperature underneath drops to 0-10 degrees Celsius below the ambient temperature because it radiates heat to the sky.

How affordable is a cooling cart?

At the moment, it is around Rs 12,000 to 15,000 without the canopy, but the exact price has not been fixed yet.

What is your basic understanding of the target community of the pilot project in Bangalore?

Generally what we see is that there is a hierarchy even in food cart vendors. The poor and the woman are the ones who sell the most greenery. And these are the ones that deteriorate very quickly. What we have seen is that most of them buy for around 3000 rupees but they lose 500 rupees worth of greens every day. They usually earn around Rs 300-500. We help save between Rs 300 and Rs 500.

How do you plan to extend the pilot?

We want this cart to be wherever there is food, fruit and vegetable waste. So we’ve been talking to different organizations, including UN agencies, to see how we can expand it. The business plan is basically to develop it as much as possible. When we did the analysis and looked at the numbers, there are around 10 million carts in India. It would be good to reach the figure of 10 million in India and 40 million in the world.

In addition to its business case, how does the initiative contribute to your 2030 sustainability commitments, including the Gigaton Challenge to reduce carbon emissions by one gigatonne, or 2% of annual global emissions?

If we reduce food waste, we won’t need as much land to cultivate. If so much land is not cultivated, there are so many CO2 equivalent emissions saved. In addition, the standard of living of these people will also improve. We will also contribute to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 of Zero Hunger.