CENTRE FOR SUSTAINABLE ENERGY USE IN FOOD CHAINS

1. SUMMARY

The Centre is one of ‘six End Use Energy Demand (EUED) research centres, funded by the Research Councils UK RCUK EPSRC and ESRC over five years  that look into the complexities of energy use across society and how energy can be both saved and used more efficiently’,

The Centre brings together multidisciplinary research groups of substantial complimentary experience and internationally leading research track record from Brunel University London (led by Prof. Savvas Tassou), Manchester (led by Prof. Adisa Azapagic) and Birmingham (led by Prof. Peter Fryer), as well as key stakeholders to investigate and develop innovative approaches and technologies to effect substantial end use energy demand reductions. The Centre engages both in cutting edge research into approaches and technologies that will have significant impacts in the future, leading towards the target of 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, but also into research that can have demonstrable impacts within the initial five year lifetime of the Centre.

Taking a whole systems approach, the research themes include:

  1. Simulation of energy and resource flows in the food chain, from farm-gate to plate. The most appropriate simulation methodologies are employed to construct an integrated dynamic food chain model to enable investigations of energy and resource flows between the stages of the chain and the external environment, and facilitate overall energy and resource use optimisation taking into consideration the impact of policy decisions, future food and energy prices and food consumption trends.  
  2. Investigation of approaches and technologies for the reduction of energy use at all stages of the chain through reduction of the energy intensity of individual processes and optimisation of resource use.  A number of new innovative and more efficient technologies and approaches for energy reduction are being developed to address processing, distribution, retail and final consumption in the home and the service sector.
  3. Study of corporate and consumer behaviour to identify drivers and barriers for reducing energy use in food chains. The impact of key influencing factors are being investigated, including changing demographics, increased awareness of the needs and requirements of sustainable living, economic factors and consumption trends on the nature and structure of the food chain and energy use.

Even though the focus is on the food chain, many of the approaches and technologies developed are also applicable to other sectors of the economy such as industry, commercial and industrial buildings and transportation of goods.

2. PROGRAMME OUTLINE

The work of the Centre focuses on a number of key areas within the research themes as follows:

  1. Quantification of energy demand in the food chain: A comprehensive review of the literature and stakeholder surveys have enabled the evaluation of the energy consumption at the various stages (processing, distribution, retail, consumption, etc) and sectors (dairy, meat, ready meals, fresh produce etc) of the food chain, based on available information and bottom–up assessments using mass and energy balance approaches.  Stakeholder surveys (e.g. manufacturers, retailers and consumers) are also aimed at better understanding of the barriers to end-use energy demand reduction.
  2. Whole systems approach to energy use simulation and evaluation: Energy and process simulation approaches employed in each stage of the chain (micro level) as well as approaches than can be used for energy simulation of the whole sector at a macro level that can incorporate the impact of policy decisions, future food and energy prices and food consumption trends have been evaluated. The most appropriate simulation methodologies, such as the UKTM Model (Ref) have been selected to construct an integrated dynamic food chain model to enable investigations of energy and resource flows, between the stages of the chain and the external environment, and facilitate overall energy and resource use optimisation.
  3. Technologies for energy demand reduction: For food processing, a range of energy intensive food processing operations have been selected and are investigated in detail through plant monitoring and modelling, building on some of our previous work and in collaboration with our industrial partners, to establish the potential for energy savings and return on investment. Individual operations include, thermal treatment and pasteurisation, mixing, drying, baking, frying, cooling and freezing. On processing lines and whole manufacturing plant, optimisation through approaches such as system integration, pinch technology, process intensification, heat recovery, thermal energy upgrading, CHP and tri-generation, waste heat to electrical energy conversion are being considered. Emerging and new technologies such as high pressure processing, vacuum frying, ohmic heating, microwave baking, that can be developed to operate over a wide range of capacities and generating both texture and flavour with significantly reduced energy input are also being considered.

An important sector to be considered is convenience and prepared foods which have experienced a rapid growth in recent years.Another area very relevant to this is low environmental impact packaging materials with improved thermal properties to increase the integrity of the cold chain. All of the above areas will be considered on a life cycle basis to help identify environmentally most sustainable options from ‘cradle to grave’.

  1. Corporate and consumer behaviour and impact on energy use: Corporate and consumer behaviour and attitudes on energy use will be studied to identify key influencing factors that could lead to energy reduction. Behavioural economics will be employed to investigate the impact of behaviour on energy use in corporate environments, and consumer attitudes will be examined using psychological methods. Models will be developed of consumer demand and how this might change in the future as a function of the changing demographics of the population, broad economic factors as well as increased information about the needs and requirements of sustainable living. This will involve measuring implicit attitudes, as a way into developing a more coherent model of underlying attitudes to food consumption. It will allow greater insight into the nature of consumer habits and also help to understand and predict possible future trends in consumer choice, and how these may impact on food consumption and energy use.
  2. Integrated food chain energy and resource optimisation: Using the integrated food chain model and applying life cycle thinking, the impact of technologies and approaches at each stage of the chain on the total energy consumption and resource use, farm-gate to plate, will be investigated. This will involve optimisation using a range of approaches such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies and computational tools to provide optimal solutions in terms of energy consumption, resource use and associated environmental impacts.

3. COLLABORATION WITH USERS AND PATHWAYS TO IMPACT

The Centre will involve extensive collaboration with the user community, including food and drink producers, manufacturers of technology, retailers, energy suppliers, food associations and other relevant research groups and networks. The partners will be closely involved in the Centre through participation in project meetings, representation on the Steering Committee, provision of data, projects and case studies as well as access to premises and facilities, technical advice and funding projects in their specific area of interest, through studentships, equipment contributions and equipment development in collaboration with the Centre. Pledged cash and in-kind contributions from the industrial partners are ~  £1.8  m (£0.53 m in cash for PhD studentships and equipment). Benefits to the industry partners will include reduction in energy demand and emissions, increased product quality and shelf life, reductions in their cost base and improved competitiveness. The three partner universities will also make a significant investment in the Centre, in the order of  £2.6 m.

The Centre will organise six-monthly meetings to engage the food sector, disseminate outputs and good practice from the various sectors of the food chain. Some of these meetings will be organised in collaboration with other active networks with relevance to food and sustainability including the Biosciences KTN, Chemistry Innovation KTN, Environmental Sustainability KTN, IMechE Food Engineering Committee which will be actively participating in the activities of the Centre. The centre will also organise annual international conferences to disseminate the scientific outputs and engage the international academic and industrial research communities. Conference outputs will be published in relevant high quality international scientific journals and proceedings.

We anticipate that projects will be developed from the collaboration to seek further funding from TSB and the EU– in addition to direct impact from the Centre these projects will act as a further mechanism for companies to use the skills developed.

Management Structure

The Centre will be managed on a day to day basis by its Director, Prof. Tassou and the two other two Principal Investigators, Prof. Azapagic and Prof. Fryer. The three PIs will form the Management Committee (MC) responsible for co-ordinating the work at the three partner Universities and delivering the work programme and outputs as well as working closely with the Steering Committee (SC). The Steering Committee, comprising an independent chair, industrial partners and the three PIs, will help steer the work of the Centre and ensure that the research remains relevant and applicable to the food industry. 

Prof. Peter Lillford CBE will act as the independent chair of the Centre. Peter was trained as a chemist at King's College London, and spent most of his career at Unilever as Chief Scientist (Foods).  He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Biology Dept. of the University of York. He was Chairman of the UK Technology Foresight Programme for Food and Drinks and is also a former President of IFST(UK) and ISOPOW. He is Chairman of Governors of the Institute of Food Research (UK), and is Chairman of the UK LINK Scheme in Advanced Food Manufacturing, He currently holds a Flagship Fellowship in CSIRO (Australia), and consults for several multinational food Companies.

The SC will meet every six months and the research teams from the three universities every three months. These meetings, which will be rotated between the University partners, will report progress on the various active projects and agree actions for the next three months. The meetings will also be crucial vehicles in facilitating collaboration between the research teams. Steering meetings, whenever possible, will be organised to follow on from project meetings and the external members of the Steering Committee will be invited to attend the project meeting if they wished.

Young researchers will receive training both in food manufacture and in the techniques of LCA and energy analysis used in the project. Those without a prior food industry background will attend appropriate modules of the Birmingham EngD programme and the Reading/Birmingham ATP in Food Quality and Safety as well as other relevant modules on energy, sustainability and research methodology at Brunel and Manchester. The 3 lecturers recruited will attend appropriate modules of the academic training programmes in their home Institutions – they will also be encouraged to develop links to the industry partners through placements and secondments (such as the RAEng Industry Exchange Scheme).