Food sector looks to technology, R&D to deliver decarbonisation strategy

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Food sector Economics

The UK government and food sector representatives are focusing on increasing collaborative R&D and the adoption of “state-of-the-art” technologies to deliver on goals to “decarbonise” the sector and improve energy efficiency.

Under the government’s Clean Growth strategy and roadmap to 2050, the food sector aims to deliver a 55% reduction in emissions by 2025, as well as a longer-term ambition to cut CO2 by 80% by 2050.

The joint industry-government action plan, published today (13 October) builds on the governments Industrial Decarbonisation and Energy Efficiency Roadmaps project, which was launched in 2015. Claire Perry, Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, said that the project is a “key collaboration”​ between government and industry to “help industry make the low carbon transition while also maintaining its competitiveness”​.

She noted: “The publication of this action plan is an important milestone for the project, as it identifies commitments from all parties to enable the food and drink sector to decarbonise and improve its energy efficiency.”

Actionable outcomes

The strategy details various actions that should be taken in order to move the sector onto a low carbon footing. The document suggests that greater efforts to support research and development into the adoption of low carbon technologies by the food sector is needed. This includes a pledge to “increase collaborative R&D undertaken by the food and drink sector”.

“The overall objective of this action is to deliver more low carbon innovation and increase competitiveness of the sector through closer and more widespread relationships with the wider UK R&D base… Implementation of this action aims to deliver the technology innovations required to lower the carbon emissions of the sector, thereby reducing costs and driving product innovation,”​ the policy document stated.

“This is a short to medium-term action to build on the current R&D knowledge ​base, and to ensure there is a continuing collaborative relationship between government, trade associations, industry, and UK research facilities. In the longer term, this knowledge base should be kept up-to-date to ensure R&D opportunities can be acted on when they arise.”

The UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy will launch a web portal to facilitate “greater industry collaboration”​ between the private sector and research institutions. The department will also examine hosting bi-annual meetings to discuss R&D best practice.

In order to support the adoption of “state-of-the-art​” (SAT) technologies, food sector organisations who have signed up to the deal – including the Food and Drink Federation and Dairy UK – will disseminate information on new, proven, SAT technologies.

From 2017 onwards, “Trade Associations [are] to encourage food and drink manufacturers to consider undertaking feasibility studies for installing and deploying SAT, including identifying operational issues and replacement cycle planning,”​ according to the agreement.

Importantly, the industry and government plan to cooperate in order to increase the number of STEM graduates to fill knowledge and skills gaps faced by food makers.

“Trade associations should set out the available evidence to government, particularly the Department for Education, to advocate for steering existing government funding for STEM teaching and career development towards energy efficiency and decarbonisation related modules,”​ the policy document stated.

Industry and government also committed to identifying additional opportunities for using bioenergy in the food and drink sector to lower carbon emissions and improve resource efficiency. This will be tackled through the establishment of a cross-sector steering group that will develop a “collective view” of the best uses of bioresources across the UK economy.

FDF targets circular economy, low-cost energy supplies

The FDF, a key signatory of the voluntary action plan, welcomed its publication. The trade body suggested that it was a good “first-step”​ that will help to “deliver secure energy supplies at competitive prices”​ and support the “concept of a circular economy to maximise resource efficiency”​.

Ian Wright, FDF director general, commented: “While this is a promising first step, in order for us to deliver our 2050 Roadmap ambitions, we must continue to work closely with Government and partners… in order to take these actions forward and to secure a sector deal for food and drink as part of the government’s industrial strategy.”

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