How the Energy industry can help the food industry | Deloitte Netherlands


How the energy industry can help the food industry

Food and Energy: addressing sustainable goals together

The food and energy industries both need a significant system change in order to build a greener future and to secure food supply for the growing population. Two different industries, one common goal. Could joining forces speed up and expand their transformations? How can the energy industry help the food industry achieve its sustainable goals?

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Food supply vs greenhouse gas emissions

The food sector is facing a major dual challenge: meeting the increasing demand for food while reducing related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The rise in demand is driven by an expected population growth to 9.8 billion by 20501, and an expected global (median) GDP per capital rise of approx. 4.5% between 2020 and 2050. As the spending power of developing countries, the average food consumption per capita2 and the share of meat in our diets increases, the pressure on our ability to feed everyone will also grow.

Fortunately, solutions do exist. They encompass innovations in food production, dietary choices, and efficient food processing methods aimed at maximizing utilization and minimizing waste3. But first we will discuss the challenges for the food industry in more detail below.

Challenges for the food industry

How the energy industry can help the food industry | Deloitte Netherlands
Figure 1: Food Production Gap

The production and land gap
The sharp increase in food demand by 2050 (56%, or 7,400 trillion additional calories, compared to 2010 production levels), is creating a gap between supply and demand. Moreover, the food industry is expected to close this food gap without expanding the land utilised for production. This ‘land gap’ – the difference between the expected land use increase by 2050 an the target land use increase - is currently estimated at 593 million hectares4.

How the energy industry can help the food industry | Deloitte Netherlands
a. Includes: Enteric fermentation, manure and pasture management, fuel use in fisheries, and wild fisheries. Figure 2: The Food value chain, including relative emissions per segment

The emission gap
At the same time, the food system needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The total food system accounts for 25% of global CO2 emissions5, 44% of global methane6 emissions, and 80% of global nitrogen emissions7.
Emissions in the food & agriculture industry are concentrated in the early stages of the food value chain. Land use and crop production (see figure 2) account for the most emissions in the value chain. Including the emissions from livestock and fisheries, 82% of emissions are generated by altering the purpose of land and using it to produce food. The remaining 18% of emissions are generated during processing, transportation, retail and packaging.

Closing the gaps

To close the gaps, we need to transform the food sectors. This will require close collaboration between systems. The Food and Energy industries are two sectors that are already connected through customer and supplier relationships. This means that the energy industry can support or even accelerate the transformation of the food industry towards net zero.

Below we will discuss three avenues of opportunity where the food and energy industry can create synergies through collaboration (see figure 3) and we will provide several examples to illustrate these opportunities.

How the energy industry can help the food industry | Deloitte Netherlands
Figure 3: Future of Food issue tree

Avenue of opportunity 1: Land use
The first avenue of opportunity in which the two industries can create synergy is in the optimisation of land-use.

Take, for example, urban farming - a broad concept in which food is produced in the urban landscape. This concept8 requires collaboration with the energy industry. A technology within the urban farming space is vertical farming (see figure 4), which refers to the cultivation of crops by using stacked trays on top of each other. This is an indoor type of farming in a controlled climate which can provide yield year-round. Today, the main drawback of vertical farming is that it requires a high amount of energy and is therefore expensive and hard to scale. However, as cities are concentrated hubs that emit a large amount of energy, there is great potential for a circular energy system within those cities. The energy industry could facilitate such a network of collaboration by building a network to enable these practices. An example is feeding excess heat from the vertical farm to a district heating network or to transfer the heat from industrial locations to a vertical farm to increase energy efficiency9

How the energy industry can help the food industry | Deloitte Netherlands
Figure 4: Vertical farming

Avenue of opportunity 2: Organic fertilizers
The food industry can harness the energy transition to its advantage by utilizing by-products generated from renewable energy production processes as organic fertilizers.

Today, synthetic fertilizers are essential for high yields. They make up 80% of fertilizers that are produced today and are based on sulphur, a by-product of fossil fuel refinery10. This supply of sulphur will diminish along with the global energy transition. Furthermore, synthetic fertilizers account for about 6% of emissions before a food product leaves the farm11. For instance, they can erode the soil and eutrophicate bodies of water. This emphasises the importance of developing a sustainable agriculture practice to become independent of fossil fuel supply.

How the energy industry can help the food industry | Deloitte Netherlands
Figure 5: Biochar – organic fertiliser

An example of a by-product from the energy industry is biochar (see figure 5). When biomass is put through the process of pyrolysis, substance is heated in the absence of oxygen to produce bio-oil, biochar, and gas. The energy industry can use bio-oil to upgrade advanced biofuels12, and biochar can be shared with the food industry to enhance soil fertility to protect and increase yields without fossil fuels.

Avenue of opportunity 3: Sustainability tech
The food industry can benefit from technological innovation across the value chain that they can leverage together with the energy industry. Practices and ideas range from utilising information technology for soil monitoring (see figure 6), to entire new sources of food production that use CO2 as raw material to produce protein13.

Microbial fuel cells consist of two electrodes that are connected by means of a conducting wire. These electrodes are put in soil or wastewater where they collect the bacteria that are present in whichever substance they are suspended in. The bacteria then transform the organic compounds in the soil or water into electricity. Although this experiment has only been performed in a laboratory, Wageningen University reports that the first results are very promising14.

How the energy industry can help the food industry | Deloitte Netherlands
Figure 6: Microbial fuel cells

Integrated ecosystem

As illustrated, the Food and Energy industries could speed up and expand their transformations by leveraging their integrated ecosystem. Promising synergies can help them achieve their shared sustainable goals. What will be your contribution to a greener future and securing the food supply for a growing population?

Next up.... Food and Energy: How the food industry can help the energy industry


1 United Nations. (n.d.). World population projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100.
2 Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases
3 Deloitte analysis – Expert Interviews
4 World Resources Institute. (2018). World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future.
5 Poore, Joseph, and Nemecek, Thomas. “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers.” Science 360 (2018): pp. 987–992.
6 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Key facts and findings”, accessed January 17, 2023.
7 Michigan State University, “How much fertilizer is too much for the climate?”, accessed January 17, 2023.
8 Van Den Dobbelsteen, A. (2023, March 14). Farms in cities: new study offers planners and growers food for thought. The Conversation.
9 Deloitte analysis – Expert Interview
10 Does net zero pose a threat to food security? (2022, August 30). World Economic Forum.
11 Publication preview page | FAO | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2021). FAODocuments.
12 Wang, G., Dai, Y., Yang, H., Xiong, Q., Wang, K., Zhou, J., Li, Y., & Wang, S. (2020). A Review of Recent Advances in Biomass Pyrolysis. Energy & Fuels, 34(12), 15557–15578.
13 Making carbon dioxide into protein for innovative animal feed. (2022, June 29). Horizon Magazine.
14 Hamelers, H.V.M. (date unknown). Generating electricity from waste water. Wageningen University.

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