Food production can be more environmentally friendly thanks to science
A computer program can help to produce food with high nutritional and health value, and at the same time processed in an environmentally friendly manner. Computer scientists from the University of Lodz are working on an innovative system for calculating the carbon footprint for the agri-food industry.
Carbon footprint (CF) is the amount of carbon dioxide generated during the production, processing, storage and transport of a given product. Dr. Piotr Milczarski from the University of Lodz explains that during production, we use energy in the form of fuels or electricity. During the combustion of fuel, CO2 and other gases are generated. These emissions are converted into carbon footprint.
Dr. Milczarski`s team from the Faculty of Physics and Applied Informatics, University of Lodz is part of a larger consortium implementing the BIOSTRATEG - CFOOD project "Development of an innovative method for calculating carbon footprint for the basic basket of food products".
The project involves scientific institutions from the food industry and food processing companies: the Institute of Agricultural and Food Biotechnology (project leader), Department of Computer Science at the Faculty of Physics and Applied Informatics, University of Lodz, Poznań University of Technology, Industrial Institute of Agricultural Engineering, Warsaw University of Life Sciences and Unifreeze.
Computer scientists from the University of Lodz are working on special software - an expert system for calculating carbon footprint. Its implementation will optimise energy consumption and reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the production process throughout the agri-food industry.
"The more CO2 is generated during the production process, the worse it is for the environment. If we could determine which factors affect the generation of this carbon footprint and then optimise them, we would be able to reduce the amount of CO2 produced during the process, while obtaining the same product" - the scientist says.
The researcher gives the example of frozen vegetables. In their case, the carbon footprint is generated during vegetable growing, transport as well as during processing and freezing process. "Taking all this into account, at the end of the process we have quite a large component of the calculated CO2 in this product, due to processing and freezing" - he explains.
"Thanks to the development of an expert system named CFExpert, it will be possible to track how this carbon footprint is generated at individual stages of the production process - and check how we could reduce it at a given stage. The result of this analysis will be the final product with the optimal value of this factor" - explains Dr. Milczarski.
For such software to be created, scientists first need to create a knowledge base, analyse the production processes related to the production of a given product and develop tools to simulate the production process. This will allow to see the carbon footprint generated at each stage.
"The next important task is connecting the entire CFEkspert system to an existing production line in order to monitor and adjust these factors to obtain a fully valuable end product, but with an optimised carbon footprint" - he says.
This system could be used not only in the production of frozen food, but in the entire agri-food industry. But that`s not all. In the project, the consortium members will also develop innovative technologies for the production of new frozen and lyophilised products using fully valuable class II vegetables. A prototype of a technological line for the production of frozen food will also be created, taking into account the carbon footprint calculation according to the method developed by the researchers from Łódź.
According to the scientist, when processing vegetables such as cauliflower or broccoli, sometimes a part of a vegetable, for example a floret, does not meet the requirements of classification because it is too small. This is what is called a class II vegetable. On the other hand, it is still a wholesome vegetable that currently gets discarded.
"If you look at the carbon footprint, the parts that we throw away also increase the carbon footprint of the end product. If we use these parts, we have less waste, we will utilise full-value plant products and we will be able to use them to create new products, such as vegeburgers or freeze-dried bars" - says Dr. Milczarski. That is why - as he emphasises - the project is of great environmental, economic, social and consumer importance.
According to the researchers, the new solution may be a breakthrough in the agri-food market. "In particular, the application of the innovative CF calculation method for the production of new products is a novelty on a global scale" - says Dr. Piotr Milczarski.
The project "Development of an innovative method for calculating carbon footprint for the basic basket of food products" will continue until 2021. It received nearly PLN 8 million funding from the National Centre for Research and Development; it is implemented as part of the Strategic Program for Scientific Research and Development "Natural Environment, Agriculture and Forestry". (PAP)
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