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Press Release - 01 November 2005

New research project to cut carbon emissions in food processing

A new £800,000 research project is bringing together some of the UK’s leading academics and industrialists to help reduce the amount of climate-changing carbon dioxide released by the food industry.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the world will experience devastating effects from climate change if we don’t reduce our carbon dioxide emissions to a safe level. The UK government wants to achieve a 60 per cent reduction in carbon use by 2050.

That’s a tough challenge for energy-intensive industries such as food production, so researchers from Bath, Bristol, Nottingham and Manchester universities are joining forces with companies such as Unilever, Northern Foods, Hygrade Foods, Baxi Technology and CompAir to find out why the tools available to meet the carbon reduction challenge are often left unused.

“Although low-carbon technologies are available, many of the reasons for not using them are social, organisational and psychological,” said Professor Peter Reason from the University of Bath School of Management and Director of the Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice who is leading the Carbon Vision project.

“Although recent publicity around sustainability issues and climate change has increased awareness, and there is a growing sense of common concern in society, people generally feel powerless in the face of planetary level events such as climate change.

“Addressing this issue will be vitally important as the UK comes to make bigger transformations in the move towards the 60 per cent carbon-reduction target.”

The multi-disciplinary project, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the larger Carbon Vision research programme, will be one of the biggest investigations ever undertaken into the understanding of how to achieve changes in carbon emissions.

It will focus in particular on food industries where high and low temperature cycles are common. Since cooking, refrigeration or chilling and air compressor systems are the major energy consumer in food industries, large amounts of energy savings could be achieved.

One approach to this is by combining refrigeration, heating and electricity generation. This single process, known as trigeneration, could convert up to 90 per cent of the energy contained in the primary fuel into a usable energy with a huge reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

A second route to possible large savings in heating and cooling is air cycle refrigeration. Technologies such as these have been developed for many years but have not been applied widely in industry.

Also being investigated is a business strategy rather than a technological innovation. In the service company approach external companies supplying heating, cooling and compressed air are regarded as services, rather than simply selling equipment for these purposes.

Nicholas Morley of Oakdene Hollins Ltd, a key participant on the project, said :“Such technologies and business approaches are frequently ‘stalled’. In other words the rate of adoption has been slow despite their theoretical advantages.

“Using action research strategies, the consortium will explore systematically how such ‘stalled’ solutions can be used not only at the local level of a plant, but how they can be rolled out more widely as part of an overall business strategy and into industrial sector and national policy levels.”

Professor Riffat from the University of Nottingham said: "I am delighted to work on the EPSRC/Carbon Vision project. The project is important and timely in view of the UK Government's commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. "Reduction of CO2 emissions using innovative cooling, heating and power generation systems (tri-generation systems) could play a key role in reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the food industry. "We are very pleased to collaborate on the project with two major companies, Northern Foods and the Baxi Group as well as with several UK universities".

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Notes

The research is headed by Peter Reason, Professor of Action Research at the University of Bath School of Management and Director of the internationally renowned Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice (CARPP). It includes leading experts drawn from both industry and academia. Members include David Ballard, Chris Seeley and Gill Coleman from CARPP; Jonathan Aylen and Dr Simon Shackley from Manchester Business School; Judith Evans and Timothy Brown from the Food Refrigeration and Process Engineering Research Centre (FRPERC) at the University of Bristol; Professor Saffa Riffat from the University of Nottingham School of the Built Environment; and Nicholas Morley from Oakdene Hollins Ltd.


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