skip to primary navigationskip to content

Cambridge Global Food Security

An Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge

Studying at Cambridge


Engineers making perishables a priority

last modified Mar 05, 2015 08:46 AM

Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum yet 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of it never reaches a human stomach. In terms of productive land, this represents an area the size of Mexico; in terms of greenhouse gases, the third largest emitter after China and the USA. Dr Tim Fox, Head of Energy and the Environment at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, explained the causes and some potential solutions to this problem, in the student-led Food Futures seminar on 4th March.  

Approximately half of the problem is down to wastage in developing countries, as a result of consumer behaviour in the home, as well as practices in supermarkets and the hospitality trade. The other half of the problem is food loss between field and fork, mostly in developing countries which lack infrastructure for efficient transportation and storage. It is in this area that engineering solutions can make a real difference, and a number one priority identified in reports by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, is creating a temperature controlled environment for perishables as they move along increasingly long rural–urban supply chains. Current energy options – such as the ubiquitous diesel-fueled ‘gensets’ – are not fit for this purpose, but recourse to renewable energies has real potential. Developing countries have the opportunity to leapfrog the resource-hungry unsustainable phase of industrialisation by taking up solar and other renewables, including absorption-process and cryogenic (liquid air) technologies. This is a rapidly emerging field with strong take-up in countries such as India, and an exciting field of specialism for emerging mechanical engineers.

For further information: