DOCTORAL DISSERTATION: Modeling Based Approaches to Assess the Sustainability of Cold Chain (Refrigerated Supply Chain)

Event Type: 
Yabin Dong
Tuesday, May 17, 2022 - 9:00am to 9:30am
Virtual- Registration Required
Event Sponsor: 
Center for Sustainable Systems
School for Environment and Sustainability


Food loss and waste (FLW) threatens food security, the environment, and sustainability. The cold chain that can prevent spoilage and prolong the shelf life of perishable food products plays a critical role to reduce food losses during storage and transportation throughout the supply chain. At the same time, temperature-controlled environments require large amounts of energy and often rely on refrigerants with high global warming potentials (GWP). Currently, there are many knowledge gaps surrounding cold chain deployment and its environmental impacts in developing countries. Therefore, the objectives of this dissertation fill the gap by providing comprehensive information regarding the current status, development trend, and climate change effects of the cold chain industry with a focus on the developing world. Using qualitative review and quantitative modeling methods, the results of this dissertation offers quantitative evaluation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the findings provide implications for the sustainable development of the cold chain industry.
The dissertation begins by exploring the current status, existing problems, development drivers, and potential cleaner solutions of the refrigeration industry. Chapter 2 reviews the entire cooling services industry, which includes air conditioning and refrigeration, establishing the background that most of the cooling services growth and subsequent environmental impact is expected in developing countries. Chapter 2 also provides high-level recommendations on how to reduce GHG emissions associated with cooling services. Chapter 3 focuses on the cold chain in China and reviews the industry status and methods of assessing its environmental impacts. Chapter 3 shows the importance of identifying the boundary of assessing GHG emission of the cold chain, including discussion of whether the environmental impacts of the cold chain are best calculated by tracking the cold chain as one element in the overall life cycle of perishable food or by tracking the long-term operation of cold chain infrastructure itself.
Chapter 4 takes the perspective of analyzing the life cycle GHG emissions of perishable food in China. This chapter estimates the emissions from perishable food delivered by cold chain logistics and advances the knowledge of GHG emissions from a food and cold chain system point of view. The paper highlights that the significant embodied emissions from agriculture production overshadow the climate change effects of cold chain facilities themselves. Hence, Chapter 5 decoupled food products from cold chain infrastructure and estimates the 40-year emission trajectory in China under different policy scenarios. This chapter is one of the earliest studies that quantify the GHG emissions only from cold warehouses and the effectiveness of various policy interventions at mitigating cold warehouse emissions. The findings of this chapter can guide the cold chain development not only in China but also in other developing countries. Finally, Chapter 6 revisits the core problem, food losses, by directly connecting the food loss issue and cold chain logistics. This chapter attempts to answer what factors affect cold chain development and how effective the cold chain is in reducing food losses.
By investigating the current status of the cold chain (Chapter 2 and Chapter 3), modeling life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of perishable food products in China (Chapter 4), modeling 40-year emission trajectory of cold chain infrastructure in China (Chapter 5), and discussing the real-world effects of the cold chain (Chapter 6), this dissertation quantifies the GHG emissions and provides recommendations to reduce the emissions. Ultimately, this dissertation is intended to provide insights and help support decision-making to develop the cold chain industry sustainably.


Yabin Dong is a PhD candidate in Environment and Sustainability (School for Environment and Sustainability) and Scientific Computing (Michigan Institute for Computational Discovery & Engineering). He holds B.Eng. in Energy and Power Engineering from Huazhong University of Science and Technology (2016), and a joint M.S. in Sustainable Energy Engineering from KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden) and Aalto University (Espoo, Finland) (2019). Yabin is broadly interested in promoting sustainability in any industry including supply chain, manufacturing, renewable energy, and electric vehicles. Yabin interned at Tesla (Shanghai) in the summer of 2021 as a data scientist and will join NIO (Shanghai) as a research engineer after graduation.

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