Sustainable energy use in EU food sector – JRC study

The EU can do more to improve energy efficiency and expand the use of renewables in the food sector, according to a new report [pdf 6.16MB] launched by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) at EXPO Milano.

The food sector – including crop cultivation, animal rearing, industrial food processing, logistics and packaging – is a major consumer of energy, accounting for 17% of the EU’s gross energy consumption in 2013, the study ‘Energy use in the EU food sector: State of play and opportunities for improvement’, says.

While the EU has made efforts to reduce energy consumption, in particular with its renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, these policies do not directly target the food production process, the study, launched at DG Energy’s event in EXPO Milano, details.

Direct energy consumption per hectare is declining by about 1% a year, however the share of renewable energy in the food sector remains relatively small – just 7% compared to 15% in the overall EU energy mix. Meanwhile the sector is highly reliant on fossil fuels which account for 79% of energy consumed, compared to 72% of overall energy consumption. This high reliance is also linked to the fact that Europe imports about one-fifth of its food from regions outside the EU which generally have a lower share of renewable energy.

Huge improvements are possible in areas such as the indirect energy used for fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation, the JRC says, including a more efficient use of fertiliser production technology, avoiding unnecessary fertiliser applications, and use of experience gained in organic farming.

Farm-based investments in renewable energy, in particular biogas, could allow farmers to become energy self-sufficient as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the study says.