The food industry is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and significantly contributes to GHG emissions. The global population is also growing and food demand is expected to increase by 60% by 2050. To combat environmental pollution and create a more sustainable food sector, energy use during manufacturing needs to be reduced. 

Electricity is the predominant source of energy. It makes up 58 percent of the energy used by food processors. Natural gas accounts for 32 percent. The remaining 10 percent is spent on such alternatives as diesel and fuel oil. there are various energy-efficiency opportunities in textile plants, many of which are cost-effective. The high reliance on electricity is due in part to the widespread use of refrigeration in many of the subsectors. Only Grains and Beet Sugar Refining do not require some type of cooling to ensure that products are properly preserved.


  • 11-16%

    Total energy needed to produce food in food processing

The production of food, which sustains the human energy balance, requires a considerable and continuous supply of energy delivered from natural resources, principally in the form of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas. For example, a typical energy requirement for the delivery of 1 J in the form of food consumes almost 10 J from natural resources. In the production of food for human consumption, the processing of food and drink requires a considerable part of this energy. The steady increase in the human population of the planet and its growing nutritional demands has produced an annual increase in the energy consumption of the food and drink industry of up to 40% in the last decade.

The accelerating development of many countries with large populations, such as China and India, has resulted in a large increase in energy demands and a steady increase in energy cost. The growing demand for energy from the increase in world population has also resulted in unpredictable environmental conditions in many areas because of increased emissions of CO2, NOx, SOx, dust, black carbon and combustion processes waste. As the developing world increases its food production, at the same time it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that the production/processing industry takes advantage of recent developments in energy efficiency and minimises the amount of waste that is produced.

In addition, the food processing industry has the potential for integrating the use of renewable energy sources in order to reduce pollution and waste generation, and so reduce overall costs. A typical example is the use of bagasse as a biofuel for generating the energy needed for processing in a cane sugar plant and exporting any surplus electricity into the distribution network. There are a number of well-established methodologies available to optimise the use of energy, and consequently, reduce operating costs. Many of these methods only require good management practice: good housekeeping, objective analysis based on optimum measurement policy and planning, and optimum supply chain management based on workflow optimisation. 

The energy and related environmental cost, and imposed emission and effluent limits, charges and taxation, contribute substantially to the cost of production. A potential solution to the problem is the optimisation of energy consumption, increasing the efficiency of processing and decreasing the emissions and effluents. 

However, there are some specific features in food processing that make optimisation for energy efficiency and total cost reduction more difficult when compared with other processing industries; for example in the oil refining industry, there is a continuous mass production concentrated in a few locations which offer an obvious potential for large energy savings. In the main, food processing is distributed over very large areas and is often producing during specific and limited time periods, for example in the case of campaigns in the sugar industry. In addition, the industry is frequently extremely diverse and relies heavily on small producers and processors. These particular features of the food production/processing industry have resulted in less intense activity with regard to energy optimisation than has been the case in other comparably sized industries.

Another new development in the food industry is the adaptation of alternative food processing technologies that satisfy consumer demand for minimally processed foods with longer shelf life, natural flavour and ingredients, and preserved health, promoting micronutrients. The alternative technologies utilize advanced thermal energy, such as ohmic or microwave heating, mild heating, or nonthermal energy, such as high hydrostatic pressure (HPP), pulsed electric fields (PEF), irradiation, and ultraviolet (UV) light treatments, to preserve foods.