Food devours energy

Over the past thirty years, the European food industry has failed to make significant improvements in energy efficiency, says Dutch-sponsored researcher Andrea Ramírez. Her conclusion is based on an analysis of energy consumption, energy efficiency and developments in the food supply chain in 13 European countries.

Andrea Ramírez investigated the energy management of the European food sector. She found out that while production growth has increased the energy requirements of the sector by an average of 1.8 percent per year, savings in the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of product have only lead to an energy saving of 0.2 percent per year. The net balance is therefore negative.

There are a number of important reasons for the growing energy requirements in the food industry: the increased demand for feed production, a growing consumption per capita and an increase in the amount of transport – larger quantities of food have to be transported over greater distances.

Short-term success

Some sectors such as the dairy industry have, however, made important improvements in their energy efficiency. Yet these improvements have mainly been due to the concentration of the industrial production, which in the majority of cases offers limited scope for the future.

Results from this study are a source of concern. Unless significant improvements occur in the energy required per unit of product, the net energy requirements of the European food chain are set to increase. Such energy savings can be realised without harming the industry’s economic growth. However, this will require greater efforts by the industry and policy-makers to improve the energy efficiency of the sector.

This Ph.D. research was part of the programme ’Stimulating the adoption of energy-efficient technologies in small and medium sized enterprises’ financed by the NWO/SenterNovem Stimulation Programme Energy Research. This programme is a joint initiative from SenterNovem and NWO’s Division for the Social Sciences aimed at developing knowledge in the natural sciences and humanities to facilitate the transition to sustainable energy.

Andrea Ramírez’s research was funded by NWO/SenterNovem.

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