With an aim to provide cold storage solutions, Tan90 targeted the farming industry of India to provide low-cost and efficient freezers to transport their produce. This Chennai based start-up was founded by the three scholars of IIT Madras namely, Saumalya Mukherjee, Shiv Sharma and Rajani Kant Rai.
The team was initially considering to develop a dehumidifier but a study of the market attracted their focus towards the plight of the farmers in transporting their produce easily and efficiently. This led to the product idea of portable cold storage to keep perishable items like vegetables, fruits, flowers, fish, and milk products etc, safe.
In the latest talk with Aishwarya from BISinfotech; Shiv Sharma, Co-Founder, Tan90 talks about challenges and scopes in the Cold Storage sector.
- Please share details about Tan90 unique offerings and how the company is focusing on cold storage solutions.
Tan90 researches, develops and manufactures specialised cooling chemicals, termed as Phase Change Materials. Phase Change Materials (PCM) are used for passive cooling and are energy efficient solutions for retaining temperatures of products within specific ranges. With a wide range of temperatures, between +13 to -24 degrees centigrade, Tan90 provides PCM with a larger cycle life and faster freezing times (which, by the way are patented!). With a wide range of applications, these cooling solutions are being used in horticulture and allied industries (like floriculture, fisheries), food retail (for organic produce, ice cream transportation), pharmaceuticals (vaccines, biologicals like RNA and DNA as well).
An efficient cold chain is dependent on both refrigeration systems as well as the efficiency of insulation packaging. Working on the second aspect, Tan90 provides several packaging solutions, for all requirements, that includes flexible insulation packaging, and rigid insulations.
2) How does Tan90 differentiate itself from other Cold Storage Solutions Companies?
One of the major advantages of passive cooling solutions is the flexibility of logistics solutions that are available with our clients. With a faster turnaround time for our clients, thanks to the fast freezing ability of our PCM, retailers are now being able to transport ice cream in normal trucks, and that too, without the need of dry ice!. Traditional cold chain solutions include options that are either costly (refrigerated trucks) or are rudimentary (ice packs). Ice packs have a limited range of temperatures offerings (typically -1 to +4 degrees centigrade), and hence cannot be used for transporting frozen foods. With specific ranges of PCM aimed at targeted requirements, we give our clients the opportunity to transport perishables, at as low as -20 degrees, in normal trucks. Not only trucks, our users can leverage on the wide network of railways as well, as we do for transporting eggs and poultry products from Bangalore to Kharagpur under controlled temperatures!
3) Which sectors are your key focus areas and any upcoming projects?
The last few months, with the successive lockdowns and a high scale of implementation of the largest vaccination drive in the world has brought cold chain to the limelight, that was awaited for a long time now. Consumption of frozen foods had been on the rise, during the pandemic, and is expected to ride with the wave as well in the near future. There has been a record movement of ice cream at the last mile with as much as 20% of the sales coming form hyperlocal delivery of ice creams from major manufacturers, this summer. To keep up with such trend, Tan90 has had been providing their solutions to various players in India, for the movement of frozen foods, without the requirement of rudimentary solutions such as ice.
To meet the demands of a scaled-up vaccination drive, there has been a sudden demand for validated vaccine shipper boxes, and efficient cold chain solutions. The present challenge is unique, as different vaccines get approved by the Government, due to the varying requirements of the vaccines. While some can be transported between 2 to 8 degrees centigrade, some requires specialised temperatures ranging form as low as -70 degrees centigrade and -20 degrees centigrade. In the absence of PCM technology, dry ice seems to be the only solution here. Transporting biologicals with dry ice is not only costly, but also results in thermal shock. However, with our -24 degrees centigrade PCM, we can help in the transportation of SputnikV vaccines at temperatures as low as -20 degrees centigrade, without the requirement of dry ice.
On the Agritech side, Tan90 is a part of an acceleration program, Krishimangal, overseen by CISCO. Tan90, along with our consortium partners, Greenbliss Agro and DByT Dynamics, are working to provide end to end cold storage solutions to marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. We are following the hub and spoke model for infrastructure development, wherein modular cold storages are being set up by Tan90 at the FPO level for both storage and transportation. We are working closely with 10 FPOs, and impacting 5000 farmers through this program.
4) What prompted your mind to focus on Thermal Solutions in farming?
Cold storages in India are centralised, and is a bit counter intuitive to the requirements for the marginal farmers, who make up about 80% of the total distribution In India. Though subsidies by the Government of India, are provided for the setting up of cold storage infrastructure, little support is there for offloading the high operational costs.
This has prompted in the transformation of cold storages to normal warehouses after a few years. Reducing operational costs for cold storages can be met in 2 ways: a) innovations in energy generation from renewable resources, and b) innovations in thermal energy storage for use when electrical energy is not present. Several companies have come up with innovative cold storages running on solar power, power generated from agri-waste produce, which are then coupled with thermal storage units, primarily consisting glycol water. Research and development is at the core for improving the efficiencies of solar cells, and vis-a cis, solar powered cold storages, while a continuous supply of agri-waste is a challenge for the latter. Innovations in cost effective and efficient thermal storage was still missing, wherein systems can store thermal energy when there is excess and use the same during the night, when energy source is scarce. This is the reason behind working on thermal management systems, based on PCM, that can compliment the electrical energy harvest systems.
5) Is Indian government helping in the cold storage business and what are your expectations? Please explain.
Absolutely. There has been a strong support from the Government to set up infrastructure to reduce post-harvest losses, be it an impetus to set up cold storages or processing plants. One of the major landmarks in this sector has been the allowance of a 100% FDI for setting up cold storages. While there is a huge unmet need for reducing food wastage at the farm-gate, such initiatives from the Government are welcome. In addition to brick-and-mortar cold storages, support in the whole cold chain is expected in the near future. In addition to brick-and-mortar cold storages, cold chain consists of several pivotal infrastructure as well, of which transportation is a major segment. Support in addition to the as-present exempt on custom duties on reefer containers, would be helpful, primarily to innovative solutions that aid in reducing the operational costs of cold storage transportation.
6) Impact of Cold Storage Solutions in the Farming Industry?
Not only infrastructure development, cold storage solutions in India needs to be smart. Reducing post-harvest losses is one of the ways to increase the income of the farmers but, requires additional support with market linkages as well. Setting up infrastructure for reducing post harvest losses is only a part of the job done. The way in which impact can be created at scale, at the grassroots, is by providing end to end solutions, whereby, we help the farmers to sell their produce as well, that has been stored. Dynamic pricing for produce is a challenge, known to everyone. ML based algorithms for price prediction, route optimisation and ultimately to market linkages are at the core of such rural digital transformation. This, when coupled with smart infrastructure can fill in the as-present gaps.
7) What are the major trends you see catapulting and dominating the cold storage industry in the coming time?
With time, customers are understanding the importance of PCM in India. About a decade back, cold chain was mostly dominated by gel packs with limited use cases. With frozen food retail sales picking up, with higher penetration in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, the demand for energy efficient and cost-effective cold would be increasing. Vaccine transportation is the next big thing for at least the next 2 years, both in India and abroad, given the ramped-up vaccinations happening to cover 70% of the population with at least one dose. Cold chain is essential for these services. The railways department has currently launched the Kisan Rail, to connect farmers with mainstream markets, which is a great initiative. Supporting this, cold chain infrastructure, modified for railways is going to pick up in the next decade.
What we believe is that, by the next 5 years, there would be a revolutionary move to opt for innovative cold storage products and users will move on from rudimentary ice and dry ice, due to the high operational costs and harmful effects associated with their use.