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Cutting carbon emissions in the food industry


Polluting carbon dioxide emissions generated by the food industry are the target of a new £800,000 research project involving The University of Nottingham.

Experts will look at new ways of cutting the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) created by the food processing industry — a major energy consumer through its reliance on cooking, refrigeration, freezing and air compressor systems.

The Carbon Vision project will be one of the biggest investigations ever undertaken into the understanding of how to cut carbon emissions, which are implicated in global warming.

By bringing together some of the UK’s leading academics and industrialists, the project aims to help the energy-intensive food industry to contribute to ambitious government targets on carbon dioxide reduction.

Researchers at the Universities of Nottingham, Bath, Bristol and Manchester are joining forces with companies such as Unilever, Northern Foods, Hygrade Foods, Baxi Technology and CompAir on the project. It is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Professor Saffa Riffat, of the School of the Built Environment at The University of Nottingham, said: “I am delighted to work on the EPSRC/Carbon Vision project.

“The project is important and timely in view of the UK Government’s commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050. Reduction of CO2 emissions using innovative cooling, heating and power generation systems could play a key role in reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the food industry.

“We are very pleased to collaborate on the project with two major companies, Northern Foods and the Baxi Group as well as with several UK universities."

One approach to the problem is by combining refrigeration, heating and electricity generation. This single process, known as trigeneration, could convert up to 90 per cent of the energy contained in the primary fuel into a usable energy with a huge reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

A second route to possible large savings in heating and cooling is air cycle refrigeration. Technologies such as these have been developed for many years but have not been applied widely in industry.

Professor Peter Reason, of the University of Bath School of Management and Director of the Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice, is leading the Carbon Vision project.

He said: “Although low-carbon technologies are available, many of the reasons for not using them are social, organisational and psychological.

“Although recent publicity around sustainability issues and climate change has increased awareness, and there is a growing sense of common concern in society, people generally feel powerless in the face of planetary-level events such as climate change.

“Addressing this issue will be vitally important as the UK comes to make bigger transformations in the move towards the 60 per cent carbon-reduction target.”

The project is part of the larger Carbon Vision research programme, a multi-million pound drive to explore low-carbon options for the future.

Also being investigated is a business strategy rather than a technological innovation. External companies typically supply heating, cooling and compressed air as services to the food industry, rather than simply selling equipment for these purposes.

Nicholas Morley of Oakdene Hollins Ltd, a key participant on the project, said: “Such technologies and business approaches are frequently ‘stalled’. In other words the rate of adoption has been slow despite their theoretical advantages.

“The consortium will explore systematically how such ‘stalled’ solutions can be used not only at the local level of a plant, but how they can be rolled out more widely as part of an overall business strategy at national policy level.”

Tim Utton | alfa
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