Trucking innovation highlights Africa's cold storage problem and opportunities

Trucking innovation highlights Africa's cold storage problem and opportunities

An emerging technology that addresses cooling solutions for vehicles has debuted in South Africa, highlighting the skyrocketing continental demand for cold storage services. Experts say cold storage could transform Africa's food supply.

Bonface Orucho, bird story agency

A new, sustainable method of generating electricity to refrigerate trucks has been introduced into the African cold storage market.

As reported by Creamer Media’s Engineering News, Global logistics company DP World partnered with food and clothing retailer Woolworths to unveil a mobile refrigeration trailer in South Africa powered by AxlePower technology.

According to Engineering News, the project's AxlePower technology “transforms ordinary road transport trailers into a source of clean and efficient electricity.”

The news report published on January 31 further explains that a special axle is used to convert kinetic energy into electricity that is used to power the refrigeration unit. A battery-holding unit ensures a constant supply of electricity even when the truck is stationary.

“This innovative technology offers tractor-independent, 100% electric cooling for trailers, using free and sustainable power that results in zero trailer carbon emissions,” DP World explained in a statement.

The trailer, which will operate on South Africa’s long-haul N1 route between Johannesburg and Cape Town, is the latest cold storage technology to debut in a fast-growing African market.

The technology helps to solve the problem of high energy consumption common in cold storage infrastructure. 

According to Owusu Akoto, CEO of FreezeLink, a company operating in the cold chain industry in Africa, the industry is critical to solving post-harvest losses.

“We can feed one billion more people globally if we can solve the problem of post-harvest losses,” he explained during the Africa Food Bank Conference 2024 in Accra. The conference was held between January 29 and February 1.

Food losses due to post-harvest handling and losses are estimated at 8%, according to the UN FAO. The African Post-harvest Losses Information System (APHLIS) estimates this figure to be higher, between 10 and 12%.

Losses are higher in other sectors, such as the horticulture industry, where, according to the World Bank, up to 40% of horticultural produce does not make it to the market due to losses.

According to Empower Africa, only about 5% of fresh produce goes through the cold chain, resulting in a significant 30–50% loss.

While in its burgeoning stages, the cold storage market is growing and holds the promise of revamping not only the continent’s agricultural efficiency but also reinforcing other sectors such as healthcare, where cold storage is of critical service.

AxlePower technology is coming into a space where renewables, especially solar and wind, are increasingly being used to power cold storage systems across the continent.

The 2023 ‘Cold Chain Storage Market Assessment’ by the Energy and Environment Partnership Trust Fund shows that the cold chain infrastructure market is developing, especially in the East and Southern African regions.

The report shows that 42% of the cold chain infrastructure sold in 2023 in Africa, excluding those sold in North Africa, was made in East Africa.

Notably, startups targeting small-scale farmers across Africa are creating and availing of off-grid cold storage solutions leveraging mainly solar energy to provide cold spaces and warehouses.

SokoFresh, a Kenyan-headquartered startup, is one such technology that is applying a cooling-as-a-service model to preserve the quality of fresh produce for farmers. Operating in over 40 countries, the company serves 7,000+ customers with solar-powered cold storage solutions, as stated on its website.

A Nigerian start-up, ColdHubs, employs a similar model in an extensive Nigerian market where it has deployed 58 hubs across 28 states. 

More recent developments reaffirm a growing investor appeal in the sector.

InspiraFarms, for instance, a Kenya-based cooling solutions provider, has recently secured a US$1.09 million investment to bolster its off-grid energy cold storage projects in Africa. This follows a significant milestone in 2020 when a US$5.4 million Series B round enabled the piloting of 'Cooling-as-a-Service' in emerging markets such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Ghana.

Apart from fresh farm produce, some startups, such as Baridi, are looking into the meat market, supplying local butcheries who can also lease spaces on a pay-as-you-store model.

Briter Bridges, a research and insights company, outlines that cold storage startups are primarily centred in seven countries, including Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, and Egypt.

According to a 2022 forecast by Market Data Forecast, the Middle East and Africa (MEA) cold chain market is poised for significant growth. It's anticipated to reach a value of US$35.1 billion by 2028, up from US $23.8 billion in 2022.

Rob Nashihanya, a Rwandese agribusiness entrepreneur, explains the critical role of developing a robust cold storage system in Africa.

“By increasing the shelf life of agricultural products, preserving food for longer periods, and preventing food waste, Africa can not only alleviate food insecurity but also open its market for agricultural products," he explained.

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