Renewable sources of green energy for meat production in the European Union

Renewable sources of green energy for meat production in the European Union

The European Union is at the forefront of the development of new, zero-emission green energy sources. Minimising the environmental impact of electricity generation is an important element of the EU’s Paris Protocol[1]. When talking about red meat, especially in the form of processed products, it is worth considering the origin of the energy that drives production.

The EU is the largest entity which has undertaken to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.[2] The EU is a pioneer in this area, but unfortunately many other countries do not follow this path, emitting more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases are a global problem – whether they are produced in America, Asia or Africa, they all raise global temperatures and water levels in the oceans and seas. The EU, because of its deep-rooted environmental and ecological values, is a leader in both planning and implementing measures to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and energetics.

The EU is moving away from the use of fossil fuels in the energy sector. In 2018 it reduced CO2 emissions by 5% compared to the previous year[3]. This is due, among others, to the increase in the share of renewable energy sources (RES), which in 2018 accounted for almost one third of the energy produced in the EU. Green energy in the EU is mainly generated from wind (11.8% of total energy), water power (10.6%), biomass (6.1%) and solar energy (3.9%)[4]. Not without significance is also  the large share of clean nuclear energy, which accounts for as much as 25.5% of the EU’s electricity. For comparison, RES in the USA accounts for 11% and nuclear energy for 8% of energy[5] production.

Rural areas play a major role in renewable energy production, accounting for 59% of renewable energy in the EU [6] in 2010. Short supply chains are used in the EU not only for the supply of food but also for the supply of energy used for its production. One of the most interesting examples is biogas production. All food production involves generation of some type of waste and by-products. Their use for biogas production is a great solution. As a result, more and more biogas plants are being built in Europe at meat production plants for their own use. The model of operation of such bioenergy plants is both simple and effective. The biogas plant is fed with slaughter and meat production waste, metabolites from animal production and maize silage from nearby farms cooperating with the slaughterhouse. Very often all the energy is used for the internal needs of the plant. In such a case, there is no need to build energy transmission infrastructure and the transfer itself is much more efficient. This translates into a much higher energy efficiency of the entire system. Such a system provides not only electricity, but also heat and steam. This is so-called cogeneration[7] – the heat generated in the course of electricity generation can be used to ensure the right technological temperature of water, to heat the plant or the piggery with piglets. The generated steam can be used for scalding or cooking cold cuts and sausages. In some cases, the generated heat can be used to heat nearby houses. More and more plants of this type are being built across Europe – between 2009 and 2017 as many as 11.2 thousand new biogas plants were built[8].

Renewable sources of green energy for meat production in the European Union

Another great example of synergy is solar panels. Livestock farmers often install them on the roofs of their piggeries or barns. This is very practical – these buildings have a large roof[9] area and their location usually makes it possible to install the panels on the optimal southern exposure. The harvested green energy is used for the most energy-intensive processes, such as ventilation or feed production. Any surplus within the facility can be sold to the grid, but it is usually used to power the farmer’s household. This technology turns farm buildings “from consumers to producers” of green energy within a short supply chain.

When buying meat products, especially processed ones such as cured meat or convenience products, it is worth considering what resources were used for their production. In the case of meat from the European Union, you can be sure that the energy used to produce it came from sources that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.