Why invest in The Circular Economy? Alongside the challenge of boosting its competitiveness in the run up to Brexit, the British food and drink industry is faced by increasing energy and raw material costs. However, it seems that the political values behind the termination of our EU membership encompass a reluctance to embrace climate change or reduce the impact of industry on the environment. As part of Brexit strategy, the case must be made for investing in sustainability and more circular resource use.
Better use of products and raw materials to achieve optimal process productivity, while cutting waste and avoiding pollution are at the core of the transition to a more circular economy. This approach seeks to decouple economic development from resource depletion while generating growth, creating jobs and limiting environmental harm, including carbon emissions. Surely something that our Government should support as part of its focus on economic development?
TRANSFORMING OUR SKILL BASE
In the UK, we have the engineering and technical skills to be at the forefront of investment in the circular economy. However, despite fine words from politicians, the UK risks lagging behind other developed economies in efforts to enhance resource efficiency. Countries like Austria, Sweden or Germany are taking the lead – and Scotland is doing more than the rest of the UK.
In recent years, on-site industrial generation of bio-energy has become a commercially viable proposition, helped by technology development, despite declining renewable incentives.
Food and beverage manufacturers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to reduce their impact on the environment and limit carbon emissions. More effective management of food processing residues (bio-degradable and rich in bio-energy) and their conversion into valuable bio-fuel is a key part of adapting to better resource use. On-site anaerobic digestion can be a facilitator of greater resource circularity – unless used to generate biogas directly from crops.
CLEARER POLICY OBJECTIVES
More sustained support from the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) would aid the transition and a more circular approach will help increase our industrial productivity? It is particularly important to find ways of enabling the smaller SMEs and family businesses that proliferate in the food and drink sector to invest in better resource use and self-generation of renewable energy. The challenge can only be met with a more enlightened policy approach, with a more stable incentive regime focused on smaller on-site renewables.
British engineers are developing novel renewable technologies but they need more sustained Government support, including a greater commitment from Ministers and their advisers to the transition to a more resource efficient approach to industrial development. On-site renewables are just one aspect of increasing energy efficiency; they also offer an opportunity to protect our food and beverage industry from rising disposal costs for bio-residues and rising energy costs.
Pressure to remain competitive in the global economy should be encouraging industry to make better use of its residues, including conversion into onsite bio-energy. Anaerobic Digestion (AD) can generate valuable energy from bio-residues, for use at locations where they are created.
Clearfleau’s on-site digestion process is ideally suited to handling relatively dilute, energy-rich liquid bio-residues. On-site digestion of energy-rich byproducts has a number of benefits:
• Improved energy use – contributing to reducing factory fossil fuel use.
• Lower GHG emissions – by supplying bioenergy and eliminating transport.
• Responsible water use -cleansed watercourse discharge (or for site re-use).
• Value from bio-residues – transforming disposal costs into a revenue source.
REDUCING CARBON EMISSIONS
Despite the large number of AD plants installed across Europe, food factory deployment has been more limited, despite its undisputed ability to cut a site’s carbon footprint. The UK has been leading the development of on-site AD and we are contributing to this by delivering on-site bio-energy supplies for UK industrial sites from a range of manufacturing byproducts.
On-site digestion can improve the handling of residues and co-products, while cutting energy costs, operation costs and carbon emissions. As well as delivering robust, cost effective bio-energy solutions for industrial sites, Clearfleau is also supporting projects with funding solutions as well as the operation of its plants.
After the 2015 Paris COP21 Climate Change Convention, leading food and beverage sector multi-nationals made commitments to change their practices and signed this statement: “We want the facilities where we make our products to be powered by renewable energy, with nothing going to waste, as corporate leaders, we have been working hard toward these ends, but we can and must do more.” Leading global food companies are setting targets for reducing their GHG emissions and developing a more circular economy. However, action by the many smaller food companies in the UK will help meet national targets while reducing energy costs.
COST EFFECTIVE OPPORTUNITIES
With many industrial sectors under external pressure to limit their environmental impacts, on-site digestion offers a cost effective treatment option with an attractive investment return. The British food industry should be at the forefront of efforts to boost resource circularity, not just by extracting value from unwanted residues and byproducts.
The main challenge for stakeholders and Government is to enable smaller food businesses to match the efforts of larger manufacturers and combine better use of their raw materials with the supply of bio-energy to their production sites.
With modest support from Government, at least in comparison to the cost of its investment in nuclear power, our smaller food processors will be able to reduce operating costs and energy use, as well as their carbon footprint. Food industry benefits will be matched by a boost to our international competitiveness, while helping create engineering jobs and export opportunities. Hopefully our euro-sceptic Government will start to invest in green engineering jobs.