ColdHubs, a Nigeria-based servitization company providing propane (R290)-based solar-powered cold storage, has received the 2022 Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership from the Harvard Kennedy School for pioneering a highly replicable cooling solution to reduce food waste and related emissions in Nigeria, while also creating economic opportunity and food security.

The Harvard Kennedy School, officially the John F. Kennedy School of Government, is affiliated with Harvard University and based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.

This award is presented every two years by the Environment and Natural Resources Program at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. It aims to “celebrate an outstanding cross-sector partnership project that enhances environmental quality through novel and creative approaches,” according to a statement by the Belfer Center.

ColdHubs was selected from a pool of high-potential projects from around the world that are striving to address tough environmental problems ranging from reducing human and environmental exposure to hazardous chemicals to decarbonizing the global shipping industry. A committee of both Harvard and outside experts evaluated the nominees against the following criteria: innovation, effectiveness, significance and transferability.

“ColdHubs provides a technical solution and a self-sustaining business model that could be replicated in different countries and regions to uplift many more thousands of farmers,” said Henry Lee, Director of the Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program, which coordinates the Roy Award. “Our committee of reviewers was especially impressed with how the partnership successfully transitioned from nonprofit collaboration to a commercial venture while maintaining its original mission.”

ColdHubs makes a measurable impact

ColdHubs provides rental space for any kind of perishable food on a per-crate daily basis for smallholder farmers, retailers and wholesalers at its pay-as-you-store cold-storage facilities (hubs) across the country. Farmers pay a flat daily fee per crate of perishable produce stored in ColdHubs’ cold rooms, extending the freshness of fruits and vegetables from two to 21 days.

In 2021, ColdHubs’ 54 operational units saved 52,700 tons of produce from spoilage, making more safe, nutritious food available for consumption by Nigerians. By reducing post-harvest loss, ColdHubs also doubled the average household income of the 5,250 smallholder farmers, retailers, and wholesalers it serves, from US$60 (€63) to US$120 (€126) per month. With the option to store food safely for longer, farmers can negotiate better prices for a higher quality product, leading to additional revenue gains.

ColdHubs has plans to expand across Nigeria with 100 new facilities by the end of 2022, according to the company’s Founder, Nnaemeka C. Ikegwuonu.

More awards for ColdHubs

This was not the first time ColdHubs has won an award for its impactful work in Nigeria. In 2020, the Swiss Basel Agency for Sustainable Energy (BASE) named ColdHubs as the winner of the Cooling as a Service (CaaS) Prize, which recognizes outstanding providers of refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment financed by the CaaS business model in developing countries.

“ColdHubs’ solution is a perfect example of how Cooling as a Service can overcome key barriers to adopt clean cooling technology,” said Thomas Motmans, Sustainable Energy Finance Specialist at BASE, about the reason for crowning ColdHubs as winner. “We want to showcase this success story because here is a large opportunity for its wider application in agricultural supply chains to reduce food waste and increase the quality and value of food for small- and medium-scale producers.”

Other initiatives in Africa

Earlier this year, French technology company Koolboks received a US$500,000 (€490,872) investment from Shell-funded impact investment company All On to scale up the deployment of its pay-as-you-go isobutane (R600a) solar-powered fridges/freezers in Nigeria.

In addition, the European Union is funding a new project, dubbed SophiA (Sustainable Off-grid solutions for Pharmacies and Hospitals In Africa), to develop off-grid, solar-powered cooling systems for hospitals and pharmacies in Africa that use natural refrigerants, including CO2 (R744), propane (R290) and ethane (R170).

Meanwhile, SolarChill, a 21-year-old project that has brought solar-powered vaccine coolers with natural refrigerants (isobutane) to remote, off-the-grid locations, has expanded its mission to also include food fridges. These fridges have already been installed in eSwatini and Kenya (also Columbia in South America).

Want to find out more, or have something to say about this story? Join the ATMO Connect network to meet and engage with like-minded stakeholders in the clean cooling and natural refrigerant arena.