We live in a world where supplies of non-renewable resources, for example water and some fuels, are perhaps reaching dangerously low levels. Alongside this, as a result of climate change, rain patterns - which have been relatively constant over the past century - are now changing. Similarly, hot spells are changing and becoming longer.

Less frequent rain and longer hot and dry periods are changing our ecosystems and putting protein sources at risk, and animals and crops are dying on a large scale.

The poultry industry, for which fossil fuels have been a central input, is now re-evaluating its reliance on, and heavy use of, non-renewable energy. Yet more could be done.

In many processing plants, however, some steps have been taken, even if small, to make more use of renewable energy sources. The benefits are two-fold: Operational costs are reduced and contributions are made to protect the environment.

Solar energy

Solar panels are increasingly in evidence as a way of generating renewable power.

Many governments are encouraging their installation by offering credits, and this can work to the benefit of both parties. The government benefits by supplementing the energy generated by traditional methods, so allowing electricity to be used in other areas, while the poultry processor can reduce operational costs. This means that the cost per kilo of processed chicken is reduced, making it more competitive on the market.

Yet, despite its proven advantages, solar energy has not been as widely adopted by the poultry processing sector as it could be, and its use is worth further consideration.

When the sun shines on photovoltaic panels, electricity is generated. The vast majority of this energy is used in the processing plant or related areas. If there is an excess of electricity, it could be used for hydrolysis and the resultant hydrogen stored. When the sky is cloudy, this hydrogen can be used to produce electricity to feed fuel cells that provide power to the plant. Several companies are working to lower the cost of this technology so that it becomes more commercially viable.

Lighting

The sun offers a lot of light, but this free resource is rarely used in the modern poultry processing plant. Today’s processing plant is generally closed to the rest of the world, meaning that electric light has to be used 24 hours a day. The reason often given for not allowing natural light to enter is that, along with it, heat will enter, so raising the temperature of the atmosphere inside the operations.

But there are steps that could be taken to change this.

The night shift in the plant will have to depend on artificial light. But once the cleaning and disinfection operations start, natural light could be used. During the day, energy consumption could be reduced by using natural light for the scalding, plucking and eviscerations divisions - without raising concerns about an increase in the temperature.

Placing heat-reflecting blinds over windows would stop heat entering the processing area if necessary or when natural light is not needed.

Heating water

Large-scale solar-powered heaters that can heat water to 70C are already in use by the horticulture industry. This technology could be applied to scalding operations, which generally do not require temperatures above 60C.

Hand washing without water

Rather than water, many hospitals now use a bactericidal gel for staff hand washing. This has worked well for the hospital sector and could be applied to the biosecurity stations within processing plants.

Reuse of waste water

Some processing plants already use the waste water from processing to wash down the unloading and parking areas. Additionally, it could be used in staff lavatories. Adopting this type of measure will reduce the amount of clean water needed per bird processed, and the plant’s overall water consumption.

Use of renewable energy can be seen as a way of reducing a processing plant’s operational costs and as a way of making the processing sector more environmentally friendly.