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Saving energy in apple storage

Saving energy in apple storage

Business Sustainability Challenge winner, AC Hulme & Sons, are using their grant to test new technology and artificial intelligence to reduce the amount of energy needed to store apples. Their collaborative project will trial ways of cutting energy use, without compromising the quality of the fruit we eat.

Apple growers are facing rising production costs, driven largely by the increased price of the energy used to refrigerate the fruit after it has been picked.

Apples can be kept fresh in cold storage for long periods after harvest. This enables us to have access to UK-grown fruit for many months of the year. However, these controlled atmosphere stores can use a lot of energy to run.

Using technology for sustainable production

AC Hulme & Sons run a mixed farm, based in Canterbury. As well as beef cattle, they grow cereals, potatoes, asparagus, and tree fruit, including apples. In 2023, they led a successful bid for the first round of our Business Sustainability Challenge.

Our Business Sustainability Challenge funds innovative ideas, processes, or technologies that support sustainable production, products, and packaging, in the horticultural and food and drink supply chain. If successful, AC Hulme’s project could not only help to reduce growers’ rising costs but also help to reduce the carbon footprint of growing apples in the UK.

AC Hulme’s collaborative project, which includes five academic and industry partners, aims to find ways to reduce the amount of energy used while apples are kept in long-term storage. They are trying to get a better understanding of how and where the energy is used within the storage process. The project is looking at different elements, like the cooling fans, defrosting, CO2 scrubbers (equipment which absorbs carbon dioxide), and nitrogen generators.

The trials are being done on the commercial variety ‘Gala’ at four different storage units.

Innovation through collaboration

London-based energy technology specialists, GridDuck, is one of the collaborating partners. They will use remote sensors to measure the electrical pulses transmitted throughout each part of the store, on an hourly basis. Their specialist dashboard means that researchers can see when there are peaks in energy demand.

Stemy Energy, another partner in the project, specialises in using complex artificial intelligence to help consumers manage energy resources more efficiently. During this trial, their advanced artificial intelligence system will make real-time changes to the cold stores to make their energy use more efficient. The tests will look at whether turning off the refrigerators for short periods, or making changes to the store temperature, causes the quality of the fruit to deteriorate. If the impact is only minor, there may be potential for growers to reduce the amount of energy they use, while still providing customers with high-quality fruit.

Another project partner is British Apples and Pears Ltd (BAPL). They plan to survey apple growers to get a better understanding of the capacity of existing storage in the industry. They want to find out what growers are currently doing to reduce energy their consumption. These results will help to guide future research.

Growing Green

This is not the first project we have funded at Growing Kent & Medway to help apple growers reduce their energy use in storage.

JIB Cannon and Son operate two sites near Tonbridge, growing different fruits, including raspberries, apples, plums and Kent cobnuts. We awarded them £7,160 through our Growing Green grant scheme in 2022 to upgrade their cold stores to reduce their energy use. The grant was used to purchase and install a novel inverter and new condenser fans and transducer, which can deliver power savings during peak use.

Giles Cannon, Managing Partner at JIB Cannon explained, “We have around 16 cold stores in operation and this technology has been installed in one store that operates all year round. It holds stone fruit in the summer and dormant raspberry canes in the winter.

“The technology is estimated to deliver a 20% power saving over the year. If it works successfully, we will roll it out to our other stores to make a significant saving in kilowatts of electricity.”


AC Hulme’s Business Sustainability Project will run until April 2024.

A second round of our Business Sustainability Challenge opens on 1st March 2024. Grants of between £10,000 and £50,000 are available. The current grant opportunity can’t be used for capital projects.

Project Summary

Project Title: Managing energy usage in apple cold storage in Kent

Project partners: AC Hulme & Sons, University of Greenwich, Avalon Fresh, GridDuck, Stemy Energy UK and British Apples and Pears.

Project dates: September 2023 to April 2024

Project description: This project will look at ways to improve the energy efficiency of the apple cold stores, without compromising the quality of the fruit. It will adjust the temperatures of refrigeration processes to reduce peaks in use and synchronise energy use when on-site renewables are available. It will also help to use electricity when it is cheaper.

The total project costs £99,308, this was supported by a Growing Kent & Medway grant of £49,654.