You, your factory and the planet we call home
As the second most critical industry in terms of reducing refrigeration energy, the meat trade has a key role in making our planet a healthier place to live. But what can you do to help? Carina Perkins reports
Energy is a key requirement for the production of meat and it is not getting any cheaper. According to npower's latest Business Energy Index, a biannual survey on industrial energy, most companies (62%) reported an increase in energy costs at the end of 2006. The report predicts that costs will rise by a further 9% over the next three years and this pattern is likely to continue as fossil fuels become more and more scarce. But energy efficiency is no longer just about saving money. In a world of carbon footprints, finite fuels and global warming, saving energy means saving the environment. And while eco-awareness might not be the highest priority for profit-driven enterprises, government legislation and consumer demand mean that the costs of poor energy management are more than just financial.
"By not monitoring and controlling our energy, we pay large bills," says Christine Walsh, business improvement adviser at the Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF). "But we are also depleting fossil fuel resources and the consumption of energy causes air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which have been linked to global warming."
The meat industry has come under a lot of criticism recently regarding its perceived contribution to global warming. Consumers are increasingly aware of the issues surroun-ding climate change and the demand for 'ethical food' is growing. The Carbon Trust is currently trialling a 'Carbon Labelling' scheme and it is likely that, in future, consumers will demand more transparency regarding the environmental impact of their purchases. Proactive energy saving is one way to restore consumer confidence in meat. Additionally, positive environmental credentials could be used as a marketing tool to stay ahead of both national and international competition.
In the face of increasing public concern about the impact of fossil fuels on our suffocating planet, the government has placed the issue of global warming high on its political agenda. The 2007 Energy White Paper lays out plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050, with real progress made by 2020. The Climate Change Bill, a new legal framework drafted to help achieve the goals of the Energy White Paper, identifies reducing energy consumption as the fastest way to meet emissions targets. In order to meet these targets, the government has introduced the Climate Change Levy - a tax on the use of energy - which is used to support energy efficiency schemes and the development of renewable sources of energy. As the climate change debate hots up, there will undoubtedly be more restrictions put on industrial energy usage. If businesses address energy efficiency now, they will be better equipped to meet customer demands and legal requirements in the future.
According to Walsh, there are three main barriers to the take-up of energy efficiency, which need to be addressed before the full energy savings potential can be reached: money, time and EU standards. "Some energy-efficient improvements can cost a lot of money and take a few years to generate a return on your investment," she explains. "Also, companies often don't have the time or enough data to understand how energy is consumed on-site, and complying with EU legislation concerning product quality and hygiene can increase the energy required to produce a product."
SCHEMES TO HELP YOU
The government runs a number of schemes and incentives aimed at helping businesses meet the initial financial challenges related to energy efficiency. Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can apply for
interest-free Energy Efficiency Loans to fund the purchase of energy-saving equipment, such as lighting, refrigeration and insulation. For larger com-panies, the government offers an Enhanced Capital Allowances scheme, which enables businesses to write off the total cost of energy-saving equipment against their taxable profits in the first year. In addition, as part of the food and drinks industry, meat companies are eligible to apply for the Climate Change Agreement (CCA) scheme. Under this scheme, businesses that meet energy targets are entitled to an 80% saving on the Climate Change Levy. The British Meat Processing Association (BMPA) and the British Poultry Council (BPC) both manage CCAs for their members. "We have had CCAs in place for six or seven years now," says Jeremy Blackburn, executive officer of the BPC, "and our members have seen some significant savings as a result of reducing their energy usage."
MORE ENERGY ADVICE
For businesses that lack the time and expertise to make energy efficiency improvements, there are several government-funded agencies that provide free energy advice and services. The Carbon Trust offers information, publications and energy surveys to enterprises looking to reduce their energy usage. Envirowise and the Energy Saving Trust also provide advice and information. For more specific and comprehensive on-site assessments there are a number of consultancy firms which offer energy audits to farms, abattoirs and processors. FEC Services is a consultancy that works with the NFU and offers a range of energy services, including auditing, educational programmes and energy purchasing advice. "Energy purchasing is not directly energy efficiency - it's more about finding the right supplier, seeing if the customer is on the right contract and looking at ways to save money," explains Chris Plackett, commercial director of FEC Services. "But for a business that has never considered energy before, an understanding of how much energy is used is the first step towards energy efficiency."
Energy-saving is often very site-specific and energy audits will identify the opportunities for a particular business to reduce resource consumption. "Energy auditing is about identifying energy-saving opportunities," says Plackett. "We start by looking at existing set-ups and energy management. Once we can identify where most energy is used, we work on eliminating simple wastage - such as leaving on lights - before working around the site, looking at existing equipment and possible replacements."
Sometimes, an energy audit can reveal simple changes in energy management that will provide substantial savings. RMIF has done significant research into energy-saving opportunities in the meat industry, and a series of visits to abattoirs has revealed that improved energy management can result in savings of between 5-10%, depending on the overall condition of the plant. Energy management practices include the appointment of an energy mana-ger, energy awareness training and improved analysis of energy data.
"Often there is a great deal of energy data collected, which is used for accounting. However, there is very little analysis carried out," explains Walsh. "Relating your energy to throughput can help provide good and continuous savings and help identify further opportunities."
An important part of energy management is ensuring that existing equipment is kept in good working condition and serviced regularly to maintain efficiency. "Improved housekeeping and management of refrigeration plants and boilers for steam and hot water will provide some short-term savings from improved controls, leak reduction and lagging," says Walsh.
Meat plants face a double-edged sword when it comes to energy consumption, as they require both heat for sterilisation and cooling for refrigeration. Both processes are fairly energy-intensive and EU regulations mean that quality and hygiene cannot be compromised. The development of energy-efficient equipment has gone some way towards resolving this problem, as has further research into practices that can improve the energy efficiency of these processes. Some of the most effective ways to maintain energy efficiency in water heating for sterilisation are simple management solutions - such as repairing leaks, installing metering instrumentation, insulating steam lines and adjusting boiler air/fuel ratios. Significant savings can also be made by installing high-efficiency boilers or by fitting heat recovery equipment, such as economisers or recuperators that recover heat from flue gases to pre-heat boiler feed water, which can be fitted to increase boiler efficiency.
Refrigeration has come under considerable scrutiny because of the vast amounts of energy it requires; it is estimated that refrigeration systems use as much as 15% of the total energy consumed worldwide. Defra is currently funding a research project that aims to identify the major food refrigeration sectors and develop technologies and processes that will effectively reduce refrigeration energy usage. The project, which is being led by the University of Bristol Food Refrigeration and Process Engineering Research Centre (FRPERC) in association with Sunderland, Brunel and London South Bank Universities, has already identified the meat sector as the second most critical industry in terms of reducing refrigeration energy - second only to the dairy sector.
RMIF estimates that primary
chilling can account for up to 80% of an abattoir's energy usage and it is therefore vital to ensure that energy is being used efficiently in this area. "When trying to reduce costs, it is not necessarily about installing new equipment, but about reforming the way you use the equipment you have," explains Steve James, director of FRPERC. "Looking at changes in practice - such as when to turn chil-lers on and off - can often result in big energy savings." Equipment such as intelligent fans, which switch down to a lower speed once the optimum temperature is reached, and door protection systems - such as air and plastic curtains - can also achieve energy savings. "It is vital, however, that such equipment is fitted correctly," says James. "Research has shown that improperly installed equipment can actually reduce the energy efficiency of the chill room."
Looking to the future, Dr Jonathan Scurlock, NFU chief adviser on renewable energy and climate change, believes that the meat industry could use its resources to generate its own renewable energy and become self-sufficient in terms of energy use. "Once energy efficiency is dealt with, processors and producers should start looking towards the possibilities for generating self-sufficient electricity."
The properties of animal by-products mean that they have significant energy-generating potential. Perhaps the most traditional use of animal products as fuel is the burning of tallow in steam-raising boilers, to produce steam for rendering. Due to a change in EU legislation, tallow is now classified as waste and comes under the Waste Incineration Directive (WID), which requires expensive WID-compliant equipment to be fitted to boilers. This makes it
uneconomical as a renewable fuel, but the European Fat Processors and
Renderers Association (EFPRA) is challenging this legislation in a court of appeal. "Our philosophy is that tallow is not a waste and therefore should not have to comply with WID," says Stephen Woodgate, technical director for EFPRA. "We are arguing that the WID pre-supposes you are going to pollute, but tallow is a natural by-product which is not going to pollute and therefore shouldn't require expensive pollution abatement and monitoring equipment to be fitted."
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