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An examination of the global warming potential of refrigeration in the food chain: developing marginal abatement cost curves - FO0107

Defra has objectives to deliver a thriving farming and food supply chain with an improving net environmental benefit; to promote sustainable patterns of consumption and production and; to deliver a sustainable, secure and healthy food supply. The development of detailed policies is underpinned by research to provide the necessary evidence base. The research requirements expressed below form part of that evidence base within Defra’s Resource Efficient and Resilient Food Chain R&D programme.

Evidence has shown that refrigeration is a major source energy use and GHG emissions for the food supply chain. These environmental impacts could be reduced by more efficient refrigeration solutions, along with reduced leakage of refrigerants/coolants from fridges.

Government’s vision for a healthy, secure and sustainable food supply “Food Strategy Report: Food 2030” was published earlier this year. Its goals include reducing energy use in the food sector through resource efficiency savings and behavioural change, without compromising food safety. The uptake of efficiency measures should result in improved profitability and reduced environmental impacts.

In 2006 Defra published the “Food Industry Sustainability Strategy” (FISS) setting out the aim for the food industry beyond the farm gate to develop best practice to underpin sustainable development through improved economic (and hence environmental) performance and more efficient practices. The FISS indicated that in the period 1990 – 2006 the food chain’s energy efficiency per tonne improved by 9.5%, exceeding a voluntary target of 7.5%. This improvement yielded a carbon saving of 73 kilo tonnes of carbon, avoided a climate change levy of some £61m per year, and delivered efficiency saving of £67m per year through reduced energy bills.

FISS singled out the food retail sector as a part of the food chain which could achieve more to improve energy efficiency. FISS indicated that reductions should be possible throughout the supply chain by adoption of best practice: In the retail sector alone, estimated energy savings of 20-25% are possible over 10 years through improvements in refrigeration, lighting systems, heating, air conditioning and ventilation.

Research is needed to evaluate progress towards achieving a sustainable food chain following publication of FISS by assessing refrigeration energy efficiency, the extent of GHG emissions linked to refrigerant leakage, and the up-take of new technologies to support these reductions. This project aims to assess uptake of best practice and new technologies to reduce energy use and increase resource efficiency and mitigate emissions from refrigeration across the supply chain (i.e. manufacturing, transport, wholesale, retail and food service sector), identify where improvements can be made, and assess how these improvements might contribute to the above. The project will review the developments in refrigeration since the publication of FISS and how these achievements help to achieve the goals set out in Food 2030.
• To review the current evidence on energy use, and resource efficiency of refrigeration, including use of refrigerants, leakage, uptake of new technologies and provide an overview of environmental impact in terms of energy, and resource use efficiency of refrigeration across the food chain and highlight evidence gaps. The review will consider:
o Extent and major causes of leakage of refrigerants. What is the potential to avoid or reduce leakage or recover leaked gases within manufacturing/storage units?
o The availability and comparative cost of new low global warming potential refrigerants and their efficiency; economic and other impacts and scope to swap to new coolants
o Energy use efficiency, maintenance practices and replacement of old compressors/units: If possible, to judge replacement trends and to assess availability of skills within the maintenance sector
• The project should summarise the potential solutions to refrigeration related emissions, along with indications of the cost of uptake to the industry, particularly those technologies that have come online since the publication of the FISS. This should cover refrigeration in all forms across the food supply chain (excluding air conditioning) and consider emerging trends and technologies in the sector, including alternative gases, machinery and techniques. An indication of the technology readiness should be given (i.e. available, near to market, at the R&D stage etc.)
• The review should also attempt to quantify the levels of uptake of specific technologies to reduce refrigerant emissions in the food chain subsequent to the publication of the FISS, and identify the drivers of uptake; e.g. legislation, guidance, or peer pressure.
• It should examine the drivers for, and the extent to which the industry exceeds statutory food safety requirements on refrigeration temperature. This should include consideration of trade-offs between reducing environmental impacts (resource efficiency, energy wastage) without compromising food safety.
o The analysis presented should be numerical, and adequately enumerate the details of the trade-off between risk of food wastage and energy efficiency
o Explore the scope for Government and other bodies to change behaviour in the food chain to deliver improved environmental impacts from refrigeration. This should include identifying the barriers to change in the food manufacturing, retail and service sectors).
• In all cases the total impact on the UK’s GHG emissions should be quantified to contextualise potential savings and impacts on energy use.
• The project should also briefly consider emerging trends and technologies and make recommendations on useful alternatives to refrigeration:
o e.g. Potential for the manufacturing sector to refrigerate only those ingredients that require it (i.e. avoiding bulk chilling until late in the process), or alternative packaging/treatment techniques that would avoid the need to refrigerate, consistent with the need to maintain food safety.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : Appendix - Project Report v8a   (908k)
• FRP - Final Report : Project Report - Appendix 1 - Evidence Review Findings   (3730k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2010

To: 2011

Cost: £80,815
Contractor / Funded Organisations
SKM Enviros
Food Chain              
Global Warming              
Resource efficient and resilient food chain              
Sustainable Farming and Food Science