Bühler urges industry collaboration to meet climate challenge

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

CTO Ian Roberts addresses the second Bühler Networking Days event held at its headquarters in Uzwil, Switzerland ©Bühler
CTO Ian Roberts addresses the second Bühler Networking Days event held at its headquarters in Uzwil, Switzerland ©Bühler

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Global food tech company Bühler wants to expand its sustainability impact, and is calling for industry cooperation to deal with the threats posed by climate change.

Bühler wants to cut waste, energy and water use in the supply chains of its food industry customers by 50% by 2025. Previously, in 2016, the firm had targeted reductions of 30%. 

“Our aim is to reduce energy requirements, water consumption, and waste by 50% in our customers’ value chains,”​ said Stefan Scheiber, CEO of Bühler Group. 

Speaking at the second Bühler Networking Days event, held at its headquarters in Uzwil, Switzerland, he stressed that collaborative action is required to address global warming. 

The two-day event was attended by around 800 decision makers from 82 countries. It focused on the question of how it will be possible in 2050 to feed a global population of almost ten billion people sustainably and healthily.

Climate change and the demands of our growing population are huge challenges. At the same time, we live in the best world in history. And never have we had such powerful technologies at our disposal​,” Scheiber said.

The company said it is embracing new ways of producing food and preparing for the future via collaboration to unlock solutions to deal with the challenges of climate change and a growing global population.

"We are absolutely convinced that no individual company can make value chains better. We need to have the capability of collaboration in order to be challenging that task.

“Less people in the world are living in poverty and education has changed dramatically. Child mortality has decreased. The world is becoming a safer place if we compare it to the past. Access to healthcare has improved. More people live in democracies. But all of that comes with a price for the lifestyles we are all leading." 

Scheiber also called for action on plastic pollution. "It would be totally wrong to ban plastics because the functionalities of plastics to protect food is very positive, but there is a downside: only 2% of packaging plastics is being recycled. All the rest goes into incineration, into landfills or leaks into rivers and oceans."

Responsible, sensible business

Bühler CTO Ian Roberts added a stark warning to industry leaders: "We have 10 years to deploy the technologies that will enable us to mitigate climate change otherwise we will have an irreversible increase in global temperature and that will have catastrophic consequences."

He too urged a spirit of collaboration in the food industry to take advantage of the current digitalisation revolution, which he called 'the biggest technology disruption we will ever face in our lives'.

"I have never seen anything like it in my 25 years in industry R&D and innovation. This digital transformation is the thing that can disrupt everything from technology, connectivity and transparency into business models."

02_CEO Stefan Scheiber addressing 800 customers and partners
'Climate change and the demands of our growing population are huge challenges. At the same time, we live in the best world in history. And never have we had such powerful technologies at our disposal': Stefan Scheiber

Better to embody virtue than to signal it

Bühler’s partnership with Microsoft is an example of how companies can collaborate to make use of digitalisation to improve the efficiency of value chains, said Roberts.

The two firms teamed up last year to unveil the Bühler Insights platform, which uses blockchain to improve food safety, traceability, transparency and data intelligence to reduce energy consumption for industrial drying processes.

The plant-based protein space is another area where solutions are needed. Bühler has developed a special extrusion technology allowing meat food substitutes to be produced. "If we really want to feed 10bn people in the current manner of consumption of protein we need to increase the plant-protein production on earth by in excess of 50% in an agricultural system that is already overburdened and unable to feed the population we have today,” said Roberts.

It also announced it is expanding its insect portfolio. After opening the first industrial black soldier fly plant in June this year, it will now open a new 2,300 square metre facility in the Netherlands that will produce yellow mealworms. “Our proposition to the market is to support the industry through solutions that produce and process a range of insect species,”​ said Andreas Aepli, CEO, Bühler Insect Technology Solutions.

Bühler announced further solutions designed to contribute to its sustainability targets.

These include a strategic cooperation with Canadian-based Premier Tech to produce industrial flexible packaging solutions at a manufacturing centre in China. “Combining the portfolio and expertise of Premier Tech and Bühler will enable future packaging solutions which are significantly more efficient, accurate and food safe by using automation technologies”,​ said Johannes Wick, CEO of Bühler’s Grains & Food business.

It also announced a new mill ‘E3’ that reduces investments by 30%, is installed 30% quicker, and saves 10% energy. “After the introduction of automation 40 years ago, Mill E3 is the next big step forward in milling,”​ said Wick. The first customer to use Mill E3 also uses Bühler blockchain technology to trace grain for more transparency and food safety.

With these new investments, Bühler’s next-generation process solutions are to become 50% more efficient, explained Roberts. “We have not changed our targets because we have achieved our original goal of 30%, but because we have concluded that they are simply not high enough.”

He added: “We are focusing our research and development spending and our partnerships on these new 50% targets. And we are convinced that this will produce good business models.”

‘Industry must become part of the solution’

In the spirit of cooperation, Bühler invited speakers to the Networking Days event, including Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian prime minister and a decades-long important voice on climate change; Stefan Palzer, Chief Technology Officer of Nestlé; Patrick Dupin, CEO of Saint Gobain Northern Europe, Francois Pienaar, who led South Africa to victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup; Sunny Verghese, co-founder and CEO of Olam International and chair of the World Business Council For Sustainable Development, and John Harthorne, the founder of the start-up accelerator MassChallenge.

The fact that so many manufacturers, scientists, industry partners, and start-ups are coming together here today shows that the industrial community is prepared to bear its responsibility and to become part of the solution​,” added Scheiber.

Bühler now boasts a global knowledge network consisting of a total of 29 application centres for joint development ventures with customers and start-ups, over 7,800 vocational training courses, around 600 apprentices at 25 locations, and dozens of cooperation programmes with universities.

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