Circular economy for cooling: A review to develop a systemic framework for production networks

18 October 2022

Journal of Cleaner Production

G. Palafox-Alcantara, R. Khosla, C. McElroy & N. Miranda

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Cooling energy demand is expected to undergo exponential growth in the upcoming decades with important implications for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, indirectly from electricity use and directly from refrigerants. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol addresses some of the challenges of managing GHG emissions associated with refrigerant gases – aiming for countries to reduce them by 85% by 2047 (from a 2019 baseline for developed countries). This paper presents the first holistic framework for transitioning cooling towards circularity, with an emphasis on the global production network of cooling. It serves to analyse active technologies (including but not limited to air conditioners) to inform such a transition. This circular cooling production network framework is based on an extensive and systematic literature review including text-mining algorithms to analyse word correlations and detect topics.

The application of the framework reveals the long-term interactions between cooling macro-drivers and the various stages of the cooling lifecycle. For example, currently the energy used by cooling technologies dominates their carbon footprint reporting but shifting to cleaner energy supply solutions will make components' production and end-of-life stages more important for circularity. Working proactively to address, and not only some, but all stages of the production network is thereby critical. Three cooling energy-intensive cases are used to describe the analysis: cold chains, commercial refrigeration, and air conditioning in buildings. Specific intervention points are examined for each which can improve the circularity of the production network, for instance, using passive measures to reduce the need for active cooling, recycling appliances, and raising awareness to improve users' behaviour. As the expanding global requirements of cooling unfold, this paper lays forth pathways to influence its growth as a system in alignment with achieving a circular economy.