Africa’s sustainable cooling centre gets multi-million funding boost



University of Rwanda facilities earmarked for ACES courtesy of Uni of Birmingham

The new Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chain (ACES) has taken a major step forward in Rwanda with a $3.5 (£2.4 million) million funding boost.

The UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) earmarked this contribution for the Centre’s design and technology kit-out, supporting the work of British universities (Birmingham, Heriot-Watt, Cranfield, London South Bank), the University of Rwanda and its hiring of the first-ACES dedicated academics as host of the Centre, and UNEP’s United for Efficiency (U4E) whose award-winning Rwanda Cooling Initiative with the Rwandan Government provides ACES’ foundation.

ACES will help get farmers’ produce to market quickly and efficiently – reducing food waste, boosting profits and creating jobs, as well as looking to improve cold-chains for vaccines and health, now recognised globally as a key challenge for Covid-19 immunisation.

The Centre is bringing together energy, technology, finance and policy expertise from the UK and in-country. It offers an opportunity for commercial partners to develop and demonstrate pathways of delivering affordable, lowest carbon emissions cooling and cold-chain systems while meeting Africa’s social and economic cooling needs. It will provide teaching and industrial collaboration to put into action integrated sustainable cooling solutions.

Heriot-Watt’s Associate Professor in Finance, Dr Bing Xu said: “There is an urgent need to explore novel purpose-driven business and finance models that are socially, economically, and politically appropriate for the deployment of low carbon cooling and cold-chain systems in the global south.”

Professor Philip Greening, Director of the centre for sustainable road freight and the centre for logistics and sustainability said: “This is an exciting project because it uses our expertise in the field of modelling cold chains to build much needed capacity in Rwanda. We look forward to working with our Rwandan partners to deliver new clean cold chain capabilities.”

In collaboration with core technical partners, a range of complimentary funding opportunities are being pursued, from the Green Climate Fund to philanthropic and bilateral development agency support mechanisms. With core resources and infrastructure , the Centre will establish a robust business model that enables long-term growth.

Associated ‘Living Labs’ will act as the deployment and implementation arms showcasing how solutions developed at the ACES hub in Kigali can be applied by communities and offer on-the-ground technical and business assistance as an enabling environment for sustainable cold chain to thrive. The first Living Lab in rural Rwanda is anticipated for launch in 2022. Opportunities for additional Living Labs are being explored with other African governments to scale-up the reach of ACES.

Project co-designer and research lead Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, said: “Farmers need robust means of getting perishable produce to urban markets and medical staff must move temperature-sensitive vaccines to rural communities, but cold chain logistics must be sustainable.

“The long-term plan is that ACES becomes the pan-Africa research/innovation, knowledge and learning Centre of choice for the cooling and cold-chain sectors - securing industrial and other collaborations to develop its research and reputation - in Rwanda, Africa and low-and middle-income countries around the world. It’s an ambitious goal, but we have UK expertise and partnerships in Rwanda and UNEP’s portfolio in the wider region to make this happen.”

The University of Birmingham and UNEP U4E are engaging international partners and industry to formalize a network of collaborators. ACES will be promoted at major international events later this year, including the UN Food Systems Summit, Montreal Protocol Meeting of the Parties (MOP33) and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) to raise awareness and encourage participation.  

UNEP’s ACES lead and U4E cooling portfolio manager Brian Holuj reflected: “After over three years of strategic planning and development, we are delighted to have a permanent home and world-class team coming into place at the ACES headquarters in Kigali. The first Living Laboratory is being prepared to set the stage for similar collaborative efforts with showcase communities throughout Africa.”


Susan Kerr