Decarbonising the European food and drink manufacturing sector

Published: 12/07/2021

By Alfredo Lopez, and Rebeca Turner, environmental consults at Ricardo.

The EU has committed to transition to a net zero economy by 2050. The food and drink sector is proactively working to support this. But what does the journey to net-zero look like?

Ricardo Energy & Environment was commissioned by FoodDrinkEurope to develop a roadmap for decarbonisation. This assesses the climate impact of the European food and drink manufacturing sector and sets out some of the available pathways for decarbonisation by 2050.

The roadmap estimates that the total emissions from the sector are 94Mt CO2e/year – almost as much as the total emissions of Belgium! The majority of these are associated with energy use, with two thirds being consumed as heat and one third as electricity. Within the roadmap more than 90 measures for decarbonisation have been identified and assessed for their availability and applicability to different scenarios.

The 2050 target is a challenging one, and it is acknowledged that there are many barriers to be overcome:

  • Many of the technologies and infrastructure developments that will be needed are currently in an immature state.
  • The sector faces high investment costs against a background of unstable policy and rising energy costs.
  • Many plants will require retrofit solutions with long installation times, and others may find themselves isolated from the infrastructure necessary for change.
  • Over 99% of the sector is comprised of SMEs that are likely to face challenges in accessing funding and other resources.

In spite of these barriers, moving towards net zero presents food and drink manufacturers with a range of opportunities:

  • There are many opportunities for low temperature processes to be fuelled by renewable energy sources.
  • Many energy efficiency measures will provide reduced operating costs.
  • Customers are becoming more environmentally aware, increasing the competitive edge for companies with low carbon credentials.
  • EU funding is already available to support decarbonisation efforts.

The roadmap provides an overview of the pathway to net-zero for the European food and drink manufacturing sector. It is important to note that within the sector there is a high degree of variability between sub-sectors and processes. This applies to the associated emissions as well as the available opportunities and challenges of implementation. As such, each sub-sector will ultimately need to develop its own detailed roadmap for reducing emissions. The roadmap is intended to be a starting point for this activity and can be found here.