Researchers at the Universities of Nottingham, Bath, Bristol and Manchester are joining forces with companies such as Unilever, Northern Foods, Hygrade Foods, Baxi Technology and CompAir on theproject.
By bringing together some of the UK's leading academics and industrialists, the Carbon Vision project aims to help the energy-intensive food industry meet ambitious government targets on carbondioxide reduction.
The UK government has made a commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. The food processing industry is a major energy consumer and discharger of the greenhouse gas through itsreliance on cooking, refrigeration, freezing and air compressor systems.
"The Carbon Vision project will be one of the biggest investigations ever undertaken into the understanding of how to cut carbon emissions, which are implicated in global warming,"stated Saffa Riffat, a professor at the School of the Built Environment at the University of Nottingham.
Peter Reason, a professor at the University of Bath School of Management and leading the Carbon Vision project said food processors have not traditionally used the technologies available to them.
"Although low-carbon technologies are available, many of the reasons for not using them are social, organisational and psychological," he stated.
The project will study the reduction of CO2 emissions using innovative cooling, heating and power generation systems. One approach to the problem is by combining refrigeration, heating andelectricity 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, theresearchers claim.
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," the researchers stated.
Researchers will also analyse business strategies food processors can use in reducing CO2 emissions.
For example external companies typically supply heating, cooling and compressed air as services to the food industry, rather than simply selling environmentally-friendly equipment for thesepurposes.
"Such technologies and business approaches are frequently 'stalled'," stated Nicholas Morley of Oakdene Hollins, a key participant on the project. "In other words the rateof adoption has been slow despite their theoretical advantages."
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 overallbusiness strategy at national policy level.
The research is being funded by an £800,000 grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
A previous study, by Andrea Ramírez, a researcher at Utrecht University's department of Chemistry, found that the European food industry has failed to make significant improvements in energyefficiency over the past thirty years.
Ramirez found that while production growth has increased the energy requirements of the sector by an average of 1.8 per cent per year, savings in the amount of energy needed to produce a unit ofproduct have only led to an energy saving of 0.2 per cent.
Her conclusion was based on an analysis of energy consumption, energy efficiency and developments in the food supply chain in 13 European countries.
The EU member states collectively agreed under a global agreement at Kyoto in 1997 to a eight per cent reduction in greenhouse gases. In June the European Commission adopted today a green paper onenergy efficiency.
The Commission wants to put energy savings higher on the agenda due to increasing oil prices and the prospects of the bloc having to meet 70 per cent of its energy needs through imports by 2030.
The green paper sets as a target a saving of 20 per cent of energy consumption by 2020. The text emphasises that half of the savings could be reached through a full implementation by member statesof already adopted legislation on buildings, domestic appliances or energy services.
A directive on energy efficiency in buildings must be implemented by member states no later than 4 January 2006. There is an additional three-year period to allow members to apply some provisions.