Innovation and efficiency in the agro-industrial sector

22 Jan 2024 - AGRO-FOOD, Research, Sustainability, Development, Energy Transition

Innovation and efficiency in the agro-industrial sector

The transition towards climate neutrality (Carbon Neutral) represents the main EU 2050 objective. In 2001, the OECD[1] promoted the concept of "sustainable industrialisation", urging the use of industrial biotechnologies in the energy sector, to the detriment of those technologies which had a decidedly more impact on terms of greenhouse gas emissions. The farms, the livestock companies, the food industry they have work cycles, electrical, thermal and energy absorption production of by-products, such as to allow various possibilities for energy recovery, especially on high production levels. The alternatives are different and include technologies that tend to aim at the recycling/recovery of waste, to be transformed into key elements for the ecological transition, finding use for sustainable fuels and more.

For several years now, ENEA[2] promotes the efficient use of agricultural and agro-industrial products for energy purposes, encouraging the development of more sustainable supply chains for production of biomethane and biofuels.

Biofuels are mainly obtained from waste raw materials (such as used cooking oils, animal fats and residues from the agri-food industry) which, thanks to the enormous progress made by scientific research, can be well integrated into the refining sector.

It is also evident that a global level, the energy demand tends to increase from year to year. For this reason, the replacement of fossil fuels with biofuels in the transport sector would represent the most important step, as well as the main challenge for the transition towards decarbonisation, ensuring both efficient and sustainable access to energy.

Within the EU initiatives aimed at preserving the environment, there are both projects Carbon Neutral is Carbon Negative, meaning with the latter technologies and systems capable of permanently removing (i.e. for a period exceeding 100 years) Carbon from the atmosphere. In this context, a relevant option is represented by biochar: carbonaceous material obtained by thermal degradation, i.e. through the pyrolysis or gasification of plant or animal biomass which would otherwise be just waste. In fact, the solid residue of the process is biochar which, depending on the starting solid matrix (usually ligneo-cellulosic material, but also urban waste rich in carbon) can have more or less high CO absorption capacity2 atmospheric and greenhouse gases in general. Therefore, on the one hand there is the possibility of recovering energy from the thermal treatment of these materials, on the other hand the possibility of recycling the solid residue to sequester air pollutants, respecting the principles that govern the Circular Economy model.

Since the 1980s, the European Union has promoted research in the agro-industrial sector for the innovation and efficiency of the sector same. Numerous results have been achieved through Framework Programs for Research and Technological Development, but it is clear that, in addition to research activities in the strict sense, the projects must also take into consideration other factors such as the management of research and intellectual property, communication, the creation of networks, the mobility of researchers, entrepreneurship and ethical, legal and socio-economic aspects, capable above all of reducing that gap conceptual and temporal which very often is created between knowledge and application.

[1] Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, composed of 38 member countries.

[2] The National Agency for new technologies, energy and sustainable economic development.

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