The relationship between safety and efficiency is not getting simpler, and the need is growing for a new approach to both: better integration of refrigeration strategy and equipment design, with systematic input from the science of food safety.
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Energy and Refrigerants
In 2010, the USDA reported that 15.7 percent of the nation’s energy consumption in 2007 went into food systems, up from 14.4 percent in 2002. Globally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, agrifood accounts for 30 percent of world energy consumption—70 percent of which is consumed beyond the farm. As the developing world industrializes, the percentage of total used energy absorbed by food delivery will shrink. But the clear message is that food delivery is a massive consumer of energy, and that consumption grows and keeps growing nominally as an economy becomes more mature.
In the U.S., according to the USDA, food’s rising energy use accounts for a whopping 80 percent of America’s total increase in energy consumption over recent years. If that is not enough to command attention, consider this: World agrifood energy accounts for 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the third of world food that is wasted accounts for 38 percent of the energy consumed by world agrifood.
The energy challenges confronting the food chain inevitably draw attention to issues of refrigeration and refrigerants. Refrigeration is a core function within the food chain, and refrigerants are its life-blood. But the primary elements of the refrigerant regime are in flux, with consequences for both refrigeration and energy.
According to a recent study, the average household has a climate impact related to food of about 8.1 tons of CO2 per year, a significant portion of which is related to the energy used in refrigeration. The U.S. has increased efforts to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons and is moving toward low global warming potential (GWP) solutions. In the alchemy of refrigerants, this action in turn brings to the forefront the issue of whether refrigerant charges can be reduced.
Low-GWP solutions include both non-carbon and high-efficiency options. Both cut the global warming impact of refrigeration, as do efforts at leak mitigation. So while timetables are uncertain and final decisions on applications are challenging, companies operating as part of the food chain will soon be moving onto the “fresh ice” of new refrigeration technologies driven in part by efforts to cut electrical power consumption.
From population growth to global economic development and shifts in urbanization, a transformation of food fundamentals has already begun. Globalization of the food chain has redefined the industry’s safety risk profile. Rising demands for efficiency reshape the safety challenge. And all of that is occurring while refrigerants and refrigeration are being rethought from the ground up because of concerns over energy and climate.
The world of food is now confronting fast moving pressures that have washed through many industries, and none of those industries have looked the same a decade later. Food will be no exception. Perhaps the most urgent task for the executives who lead the food industry is not that of meeting the specific challenges, but of redefining their basic orientation to accommodate change that is constant, scope that is global, and safety, efficiency, and technological demands that will require a new caliber of management.
Tryson is director, corporate communications and public relations, for Danfoss. Reach her at LisaTryson@danfoss.com.