Food giants shoot for 100% renewable energy target

Food giants shoot for 100% renewable energy target

Unilever and Mars were among the first household names in the food and drink industry to announce plans for a 100% shift to renewable energy.

But few of them have a specific deadline, while some still heavily rely on biomass, which is controverisal, because of potential competition with food crops.

A move to cleaner fuels and measures to cut energy consumption have already enabled food and drink manufacturers to reduce carbon emissions by 22% between 1990 and 2012, according to the European Environment Agency.

In total, fuel consumption across the food and drink industry was slashed by 65% between 1990 and 2012, according to EEA figures.

Most of these reductions came from energy efficiency improvements, and a move towards cleaner fuels — replacing, for instance, coal and heavy fuels with gas, according to FoodDrinkEurope, an industry trade group.

The former EU official points out that these changes were partly driven by policy. “Some major food companies which are energy intensive like big slaughterhouses and dairies are subject to the European Emission Trading Scheme,” which puts a cap on greenhouse gas emissions at factory level, Hoelgaard told EurActiv.

So one way of staying within the limit was to increase use of manure and silage as biomass for the production of electricity on the farm, Hoelgaard says.

Switching to renewables probably comes more easily for the food sector than elsewhere. After all, the biological origin of by-products and waste coming from food and drink processing makes the switch more natural.

According to the European Commission, every tonne of bio-waste sent for biological treatment can deliver between 100-200 cubic meters of biogas, thereby reducing dependency on fossil fuels and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Lured by the potential, some companies have embarked on ambitious plans to go 100% renewable. At Mars Inc., a number of European factories are already producing biogas from waste water, helping to reduce emissions and energy consumption.

“We have an ambitious goal ― reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and eliminate 100% of GHG emissions from our operations by 2040,” said Juan Manuel Banez Romero, European Government Relations Manager at Mars.

More generally, the industry is growing increasingly aware of the need to cut its energy consumption, whether directly or indirectly by cutting waste.

“The issue is not only about treating waste but also saving energy, water, greenhouse gas emissions which were generated to produce this waste” in the first place, remarked Pascal Gréverath, a Nestlé executive who chairs the sustainability committee at FoodDrinkEurope.

The first priority for food companies is to prevent waste from happening at all. But where waste is generated, it can be reprocessed as an intermediary product instead of being landfilled or burned for energy recovery.

Environmental activists are more sceptical however. They warn that bio-waste cannot be a long-term renewable energy solution.

“There is no magic bullet,” said Ever Mitchell, from Food and Water Europe, a green campaign group. And although these initiatives might sound good, she says the devil often lies in the detail.

The warning also applies when using bio-waste for burning, which the Commission says is currently “very common” in the European Union.

“Burning food out of the waste stream is not the same thing as eliminating waste,” Mitchell pointed out. “Burning waste seems a quite inefficient way of generating energy when you consider all the petrochemicals —diesel and agro-sprays —that went into producing that food.”

Over time, bio-waste may become less of an issue however, as food companies gradually switch to renewable electricity.

In the US, Mars launched a gigantic wind farm project to supply its 70 production sites there with renewable energy. Called Mesquite Creek, the farm project spans 25,000 acres, or around the size of Paris.

“This makes Mars the first major food business to source all of its electricity for its US operations from renewable sources,” boasts Romero, the European Government Relations Manager at Mars.

“By 2030 the reduction has to be at least 40% for the companies subject to ETS. Food companies will have to continue their good progress. It is should be doable but requires an extra effort,” Hoelgaard said.

Source: Euractiv.it

Date: November 2015

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