Cold Chain Innovation Hub Research: Part 1

The following report — “Evaluating the Philippines’ Food Cold Chain, Energy Efficiency and Environmental Impact” — includes desk-based research conducted by the Cold Chain Innovation Hub on behalf of the “Global Partnership for Improving the Food Cold Chain in the Philippines” project.

The report has been divided into three parts and reproduced below.

Evaluating the Food Cold Chain in the Philippines

Main Findings

  • The Philippines has an opportunity to leap frog traditional cooling technologies and implement several alternative clean cooling technologies available in the market today.
  • Implementing traditional cooling equipment today risks exacerbating greenhouse gas emissions for the next decade or more.
  • The Philippines agriculture and farming sector is very vulnerable to disruption due to a lack of post-harvest cold chain infrastructure.
  • Major infrastructure shortages include modern integrated pack-houses with pre-cooling equipment and cold storage facilities located near farms as well as refrigerated transport for both rural areas and urban distribution.
  • Alternative clean cooling technologies exist today and are ready to be tested and demonstrated as part of a fully functioning state-of-the-art innovative farm-to-fork cold chain to support the future development of the Philippines.

Current State of the Philippines’ Cold Chain

Post-harvest cold storage infrastructure for a large part of the Philippines’ agriculture, fishery, and livestock/poultry sectors are non-existent or inadequate today.

The cold storage infrastructure that does exist today in the country is largely owned and operated by major logistics companies.

Most of the cold chain system in the Philippines are developed and operated by major local logistics companies and retailers (superstores and convenience stores) that sell imported agri-products and foods.

The infrastructure is largely disconnected from the local production regions. Additionally, cold storage infrastructure that has been created in the last few years has been sitting unused because they were strategically deployed in areas that are already disconnected from the beginning stages of the cold chain.

The situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the insecurity of the food supply in the Philippines and its over reliance on imports and exports has been brought to the forefront.

However, deploying traditional cold chain equipment is a double-edged sword — improving food security while at the same time risking a significant increase in energy use and environmental impact.

This means that there is an urgent need to identify, test and demonstrate energy efficient and clean cold chain equipment in the Philippines.

According to a study conducted by the UK-based Birmingham Energy Institute in 2017 on establishing clean cold chains in India, alternative technologies for the entire cold chain are available and market ready today.

Luckily there is no shortage of clean cold technologies with which to build a sustainable cold chain in India…It became clear that every stage of the cold chain – from pack house pre-cooling to vehicle refrigeration to cold storage hub – could be freed from its current dependence on grid electricity or diesel.

Several examples of these alternative clean cooling technologies, as applicable to the Philippines food cold chain, have been identified in this report.

Cold Chain Components

For the purpose of this report, we’ve identified the four major food categories that require cold chain infrastructure:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Fish and seafood
  • Poultry and livestock
  • Milk, butter and ice cream

To set a foundation for a basic understanding of the food cold chain as a whole, we have first focused on the fruits and vegetables sector. The cold chain and its associated infrastructure components for this sector have been simplified and broken down in the following infographic:

Fruits and Vegetables Cold Chain Infographic
A simplified outline of major food cold chain components for the fruits and vegetables sector.

These major components with their desirable set-up locations have also been broken down and identified in a study conducted by the Government of India in 2015. This is shown in the table below:

Infrastructure ComponentDesirable Set-up Location
Modern Pack-house (PH)At farm gate for fresh produce preconditioning
Long Haul Transport (T)From pack-house to “Mandi” (Indian term for wholesale produce market)/wholesale buyer
Cold Storage Hubs (CH)Close to consumption/distribution centre
Cold Storage Bulk (CS)At farm gate/food processing premises
Ripening Chamber (RC)Close to consumption/distribution centre
Last Mile Transport (t)Within distribution city
Retail/Front-end (FE)Last mile merchandising
Food Processing Unit (PU)Factory dispatch of food product as source point
Source: NCCD. 2015. All India Cold-chain Infrastructure Capacity (Assessment of Status & Gap), Delhi. (, “Table 2.1 Major Cold-chain Infrastructure Components”

Near the Farm

Fruits and Vegetables Cold Chain Infographic


What is pre-cooling?

Pre-cooling is the first step for fruits and vegetables in the food cold chain. It is the process of removing field heat from freshly harvested produce and is typically done before it is stored in a cold room for a longer period of time before being picked up by a refrigerated truck.

To ensure energy efficiency in cold storage facilities, pre-cooling of harvested crops is necessary in order to prepare the crop for proper temperature input into the cold storage process.
The main objective of pre-cooling is, therefore, to reduce the temperature of a commodity to the optimum level as rapidly as possible after harvest without inducing physiological disorders or physical damage.

Pre-cooling is important because it maximizes and preserves the optimum level of quality for the produce and its value for sale.

It must be noted that pre-cooling of fruits, vegetables and meat products becomes critical in determining the grading outcome as it significantly prolongs shelf life of these fruits/vegetables and satisfies the cooling/quality requirements of meat processors.

Ideal temperatures vary for various types of produce:

Traditional methods and technologies

There are several pre-cooling methods used for fruits and vegetables. Some work for many types of produce while others only work for certain types.

Some common methods are pictured below:

Cold room with an room air conditioner and a “CoolBot” device, Source: World Vegetable Center, "Cooling Methods", 2017, Youtube

Cold room with a room air conditioner and a “CoolBot” device

Source: World Vegetable Center, “Cooling Methods”, 2017, Youtube

These methods are also summarized in the table below:

MethodDescriptionRequired equipment
Shade/night harvestingProduce left in the shade during and immediately after harvesting (or harvested at night) deteriorates less than produce left in the sun.None
Hydro coolingHydro coolers may either be an immersion-type or a shower system and may make use of ice blocks or a mechanical refrigeration system as a source of cooling. For either type, a water pump is used to circulate and distribute water.Ice machine, refrigeration system, water pumps
Evaporative vacuum coolingA vacuum cooler makes use of an air-tight chamber which is made of steel. Under reduced pressure heat is absorbed by the evaporating water at the surface of the produce.Air-tight steel chamber, refrigeration system
IcingIcing makes use of crushed ice packed together with the commodity in water-resistant containers.Ice machine, water-resistant containers
Forced air coolingTunnel cooling, a common method of forced air cooling used in developed countries, involves the blowing of cool air through containers of produce.Refrigeration system, cold room, fans
Cold roomThis method simply involves placing stacks of produce in a refrigerated space. Slowest method of pre-cooling due to field-heat still being present in produce.Refrigeration system, cold room
Source: “Good practice in the design, management and operation of a fresh produce packing-house”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, 2012

In the Philippines

According to several studies, there is a lack or absence of pre-cooling facilities in and around farm and trading areas in the Philippines and it has contributed significantly to the quality deterioration and increased food losses along the food cold chain.

Pre-cooling and cold storage facilities are lacking both in the northern and southern farms in the Philippines…Traded vegetables are just deposited around the trading facility under direct sunlight, uneven dusty and rocky ground and left on that condition until trading transaction has been completed and truck for loading has arrived, which could last for hours.

The current lack of post-harvest facilities and cold chain practices are resulting in major post-harvest losses in the crops sub-sector.

Research conducted in 2010 by the University of the Philippines Los Banos and the Philippine Center for Post-harvest Development and Mechanization showed that the current business-as-usual process involves the harvesting and transport of fruits and vegetables all the way to market with zero use of refrigeration.

At present, the distribution system is quite inefficient due to lack of functional post harvest facilities, trading centers and packing houses, storage facilities for fresh, poor infrastructure and weak implementation of policies for agriculture.

This has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and has exposed the lack of flexibility and vulnerability of the country’s food supply due to inadequate cold chain infrastructure.

Risks of using traditional methods and technologies

Traditional refrigeration systems used for pre-cooling that involve refrigeration systems, electric fans and pumps contribute to carbon emissions in direct ways (through synthetic refrigerant leaks) and indirect ways (through reliance on grid electricity or diesel).

Conventional cooling technologies typically run using refrigerant gases (‘F-gases’) that are themselves extremely powerful greenhouse gases and tend to leak. Pound for pound, some F-gases cause thousands of times more warming than CO2. Conventional cooling technologies also typically rely on diesel or grid electricity, and so cause further large emissions of CO2 from their energy consumption. In addition, since many of the technologies are powered by lightly regulated secondary diesel engines, they also emit grossly disproportionate amounts of local air pollution.

Cold Storage (Bulk)

What is Cold Storage (Bulk)?

A cold storage (bulk) facility is strategically located near the farm. Once produce has been pre-cooled it must either be immediately loaded into a refrigerated truck for transport to market or kept in a cold storage (bulk) facility.

In a 2019 report titled “Promoting Clean and Energy Efficient Cold-Chain in India” by the Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, Cold Storage (Bulk) facilities were described as follows:

It is designed for long duration storage of produce to build an inventory buffer which will serve to smoothen the episodic production by stabilizing & sustaining the supply lines. These are normally constructed in areas close to producing areas (farm-gate) to facilitate quick access to producers for a selective set of crops only.

Pre-cooling and cold storage often are integrated in modern pack-house facilities. These are described in a separate section of the report (see: The Pack House).

Traditional methods and technologies

Typically, fruits and vegetables can simply be stored in a cold room near the farm while it waits to be picked up. These cold rooms are cooled by packaged refrigeration systems or even modified air-conditioners on small to medium scale farms.

Common cheap forms of cool rooms include:

MethodDescriptionRequired equipment
Self-constructed cool room with an air conditioner and a “Coolbot” deviceA traditional room window mounted type air conditioner can be connected to an insulated room made from double-walled plywood panels with polystyrene sheets for insulation. Connecting the “Coolbot” device artificially lowers the temperature of the air conditioner thereby forcing it to operate as a refrigeration unit.Plywood, Coolbot device, room air conditioner
Commercial refrigerator or walk in coolerThis is a larger commercial refrigerator or walk in cooler powered by the electrical grid using either hydrocarbon or freon refrigerant.Commercial refrigerator
Source: World Vegetable Center, “Cooling Methods”, 2017, Youtube, “CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE: Walk-in Coolers,” 2016, Urban Farmer Curtis Stone, Youtube

In the Philippines

In the Philippines, there is a significant lack of cold storage (bulk) facilities.

In the Philippines, there are only a few cold storage facilities available for small to medium scale farmers, hence, food loss occurs during prolonged storage. The very high temperature and relative humidity due to the tropical nature of the country is also one of the reasons for the quality deterioration of crops for small to medium scale farmers who cannot afford cold storage facilities.

Risks of using traditional methods and technologies

Similar to pre-cooling technologies, traditional equipment used for cold storage bulk facilities have significant impacts on the environment including refrigerant gas leaks, pollution from diesel engines, or the use of fossil-fuel powered grid electricity.

On the Road

Fruits and Vegetables Cold Chain Infographic

Refrigerated Trucks and Vans

On land, produce is transported mainly by refrigerated vehicles (in addition to by sea via the roll on/roll off system in the Philippines).

Traditional methods and technologies

Refrigerated trucks fall into three main categories:

  1. Refrigerated trailer (diesel-powered refrigeration system)

Refrigerated trailers’ refrigeration systems are typically powered through integrated diesel driven motors that are in addition to the truck’s main engine.

  1. Refrigerated trucks/vans (vehicle engine direct drive powered refrigeration system)

For smaller refrigerated trucks and vans, their refrigeration systems are usually powered either by direct drive systems linked to the vehicle engine or separate batteries.

  1. Refrigerated trucks with eutectic plates (pre-charged cooling before transport)

Eutectic plate trucks are chilled prior to transport by a refrigeration system powered by a diesel generator or by being plugged into the electrical grid.

The three methods with the associated energy sources are summarized below:

MethodEquipment neededEnergy source
Refrigerated trailerTransport refrigeration systemSecondary diesel generator (in addition to the vehicle’s primary diesel engine), electrical grid
Refrigerated truck/vansTransport refrigeration systemVehicle engine
Refrigerated trucks with eutectic platesStationary refrigeration system, eutectic plates or phase change materialsSecondary diesel generator (in addition to the vehicle’s primary diesel engine), electrical grid

The majority of the refrigerated trailers, trucks and vans use R134a or R404a as refrigerants.

The usage of the trucks can be broken down into two main categories:

  • Long haul: Used to transport produce from the farm to a storage or distribution center.
  • Short haul: Used to transport produce from storage and distribution centers to markets or retail/food service locations.

In the Philippines

The Philippines has a severe shortfall of refrigerated vehicles to serve its urban population as compared to developed countries.

…providing the farmers with refrigerated trucks is actually a key in preventing food loss and increasing the income of farmers.

Based on data provided by several sources, compared to France which has a similar number of urban residents, the Philippines has less than 10% of the refrigerated vehicles needed to serve its urban population.

Instead of refrigerated vehicles, transportation of fruits and vegetables are done by open non-refrigerated trucks, or oversized jeepneys and tricycles.

Open truck transporting vegetables from Benguet to Batangas in Southern Luzon (6 hours), Source: "2018 GCCA Global Cold Storage Capacity Report", July 2018, Victoria Salin, Texas A&M University, International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, "Cold chains and the demographic dividend" April 2015, Dearman, Cold Chain Association of the Philippines
Open truck transporting vegetables from Benguet to Batangas in Southern Luzon (6 hours), Source: “Born to be Wild: The vegetable trading posts in La Trinidad, Benguet”, June 6, 2018, GMA Public Affairs, Youtube

These are used mainly when transporting produce from rural areas to urban or wholesale markets as well as terminals and ports for export.

Land transportation is usually done by trucks from the packing facilities to the terminals and ports for distribution internationally.

Unrefrigerated land and sea transportation is usually combined when bringing produce from the southern regions to the northern regions where the major domestic markets are located. Transit time is usually less than two days and produce is typically exposed to high temperatures during the trip.

This process is described in detail in a 2010 study conducted by the University of the Philippines Los Banos and the Philippine Center for Post-harvest Development and Mechanization:

Commodities are usually transported by ship from the southern part where crops are produced and marketed to the northern part where the major domestic market is situated. If there are no delays due to bad weather or technical ship problems, the transit time is about 36 hours. Delay in transport would lead to additional handling cost, loss of volume and loss of potential profit (Bautista and Maunahan, 2007) When commodities in the metal van are loaded in passenger ships, the vans are placed below the boat where the engine is located. The temperature rises really high due to the engine heat and the heat of the commodities emitted in the process of respiration. Commodities are also shipped using cargo vessels which takes a shorter period of time (24 hours). However, cargo vessels are more limited than passenger ships.

After the ship has docked, it will still take about 5-6 hours for the fruit van to be released. If fruits are bulk loaded, stripping takes another 16 hours. The bananas will then be transferred in trucks or oversized jeepneys and transported over land. However, the vehicle is always fully loaded and the handlers sit on top of the produce. The people sitting on the bulk loaded fruits add weight especially to the bottom fruits which results in compression damage.

Risks of using traditional methods and technologies

There are two main components related to the environmental impact of refrigerated transport vehicles.

The first and the largest is the diesel engine used to power the transport refrigeration unit (TRU) on the truck (separate from the trucks main engine).

Vehicle refrigeration today is overwhelmingly powered by diesel, often using a highly polluting secondary engine to drive the Transport Refrigeration Unit.

According to a 2015 report titled “Cold chains and the demographic dividend” by UK-based Dearman Engine Company, the diesel engines used to power the TRUs:

  • Consume up to 20% of the truck’s fuel
  • Emit significant amounts of nitrogen dioxide
  • Emit significant amounts of particulate matter
  • Emit 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide per truck per year

In addition, the TRU:

  • Leaks F-gas refrigerants at an estimated annual leakage rate of 25% (the most common F-gases used for TRUs are R134a or R404a)

Finally, the vehicle engine itself emits CO2. These emissions occur both as the truck is moving and as it sits idle during loading and off loading.

Near the City

Fruits and Vegetables Cold Chain Infographic

Cold Storage (Hubs)

What are Cold Storage (Hubs)?

Cold Storage (Hubs) can also be called cold storage distribution facilities. They are located near urban areas and markets and are usually distinguished from a cold storage (bulk) facility by its short term handling, as opposed to longer duration storage.

SPAR South Rand Cold Storage Distribution Centre, South Africa, Source: SPAR Group Limited

The Government of India described cold storage (hubs) as follows:

It is designed for short-term handling of produce so as to serve as a distribution logistics platform for marketable packaged produce and ready to retail produce…These are normally constructed close to consumption centres, built at the front-end linked to source points with refrigerated transport.

In the Philippines

According to the Department of Agriculture, there are 233 accredited cold storage warehouses in the country. Total cold storage capacity is estimated to be around 2,000,000 m3 according to the Global Cold Chain Alliance and the Cold Chain Association of the Philippines. The Global Cold Chain Alliance also estimated the average facility size to be around 16,667 m3.

Number of Facilities233
Total Capacity~2,000,000 m3
Average Facility Size~16,667 m3

Note on Units of Measure:

Cubic meters was chosen to be adopted as the standard capacity unit of measure in order to assess the Philippines’ cold storage sector from a global perspective. Cubic meters is the standard unit adopted by the Global Cold Chain Alliance. In the Philippines, however, it is customary to measure cold storage capacity in either number of pallet positions or metric tons.

Therefore, there is some potential for statistical error due to the need to apply quantitative conversion factors. This report uses conversion factors provided by the Global Cold Chain Alliance which are as follows:

1 metric ton = 4.3 cubic meters

The conversion from weight-based units (metric tons) to volume-based units (cubic meters) depends on the product in storage. Conversions provided by the Global Cold Chain Alliance are based on assumptions provided to them by food industry experts about types of products stored.

The majority are largely owned and operated by major logistics companies for import and export.

Most of the cold chain system in the Philippines are developed and operated by major local logistics companies and retailers (superstores and convenience stores) that sell imported agri-products and foods.

Geographical Distribution

The Philippines is divided into 17 administrative regions within its three main island groups of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Of the 233 total cold storage warehouses accredited by the Department of Agriculture, the majority (91) are located in the National Capital Region (also referred to as Metro Manila).

LuzonRegion 1
Region 2
Region 3
Region 4A
Region 4B
Region 5
Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR)
National Capital Region (NCR)
VisayasRegion 6
Region 7
Region 8
MindanaoRegion 9
Region 10
Region 11
Region 12
Region 13
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao

Traditional methods and technologies

Large cold storage facilities used as distribution hubs can vary widely in format and scale. However, most facilities use centralized refrigeration systems.

A traditional ammonia refrigeration system uses over 10,000 lbs (4,356 kg) of ammonia, usually with a glycol loop, in what is called a central system. This central system uses air handling units, cooling coils, etc. located throughout the facility. The main components, such as the compressors, condensers and vessels of the system, are in a central machine room. Ammonia is then piped from the machine room to the evaporators at the load.

Smaller facilities typically employ freon-based refrigerants while larger facilities typically employ ammonia.

95% of the facilities in the Philippines operate on ammonia. The majority of the systems are single stage flooded pumped liquid recirculation systems using reciprocating or screw compressors. A few systems use glycol as a secondary refrigerant. A few NH3/CO2 systems have been installed (less than 5%).

Small facilities (under 100MT of storage capacity) sometimes use freon-based systems (i.e. 404A with scroll compressors).

Food Retail

In the Philippines

The Philippines’ food retail market in 2018 was valued at $47.4 billion.

In 2016, sales of sari-sari stores (sari-sari is the Philippine word referring to a small owner-operated neighborhood convenience store) were estimated to reach more than $26.94 billion, accounting for almost 60% of total food retail in the country.

Supermarkets posted the second biggest sales growth next to convenience stores with 7% growth in 2016. Supermarkets continue to be the most frequently visited modern retailer since they are usually located near residential areas or in shopping malls which consumers regularly visit.

Shifting consumer preferences

In the Philippines, there is an ongoing shift in consumer habits to buy fresh and frozen produce from supermarkets than from traditional wet markets.

There is a growing demand for gourmet and healthy foods, frozen ready-to-cook foods, processed grocery items and other food ingredients for home meal replacement. This is also being driven by a growing consumer awareness of food quality and safety.

The rapid modernization and expansion of the Philippine food retail industry have also led to the increase of national and upscale supermarket chains throughout the country.

Traditional methods and technologies

Typical commercial food retail refrigeration systems consist of refrigerated display cabinets or display cases that are either independent units or are connected to a centralized refrigeration system.

Food Service

In the Philippines

There are a total of 30,889 establishments engaged in Accommodation and Food Service Activities according to the 2016 Annual Survey of Philippine Business and Industry (ASPBI).

Restaurants led the sector with 7,218 establishments, accounting for 23.4 percent of the total number of establishments. This was followed by cafeterias with 4,725 establishments (15.3%) and fast-food chains with 4,411 establishments (14.3%).

The Philippines food service sector is highly dominated by independent restaurants. However, quick-service restaurants and foreign fast food chains are gaining prevalence owing to the preferences of the growing millennial customer base.

Traditional methods and technologies

Food service businesses such as fast food restaurants, cafes and bars typically use smaller commercial refrigerators where food is stored while it waits to be prepared for consumption. The majority are independent units that are not connected to a larger centralized refrigeration system.

Continue to Part 2: Clean Food Cold Chain Alternatives