Government Investment Needed to Reap Rewards for Bioenergy Industry

Ireland’s leading bioenergy R&D group says a capital funding programme is needed to stimulate the development of an indigenous bioenergy industry in Ireland. The Technology Centre for Biorefining and Bioenergy (TCBB), which is funded by Enterprise Ireland and based at NUI Galway, has made this and other suggestions in answer to a call for input into a draft a bioenergy strategy for Ireland.

Bioenergy is the general term used to describe renewable energy derived from biomass. Biomass includes forestry and crops specifically grown for energy use, as well as biodegradable residues from agriculture, industrial and municipal waste. The Government’s bioenergy strategy will scope out the role that bioenergy can play in meeting Ireland’s 2020 targets for reducing emissions, and is expected to be published by the end of June.

According to the TCBB, stimulating development of an indigenous bioenergy and biorefining industry will have a knock-on effect throughout the supply chain, benefitting local forestry and agriculture, as it would provide an outlet for forestry products and energy crops. In addition, agri-food producers will benefit from the ability to economically utilise their process residuals. Local waste management companies may benefit, providing viable uses for a proportion of their biodegradable waste.

“Wastes produced from Ireland’s large and productive agri-food industry could be utilised for immediate production of renewable heat, electricity and transport fuels,” says Bart Bonsall, Technology Leader of the TCBB. “With supportive development policies these resources can all be harnessed in the very short term to improveIreland’s economic performance, attracting inward investment, creating employment, improvingIreland’s balance of trade and the tax base. The outputs from an indigenous bio-energy industry would displace imported coal, oil and other fossil fuels, improving energy security as well as the environment in which we live.”

The TCBB suggests a Government fund, underwritten by financing from EU sources could be matched with funds from private enterprise to kick-start development of this industry in Ireland. A €250 million EU backed financing programme would attract an additional €250 million of private investment capital, underpinning construction a variety of renewable heat, electricity and transport fuel projects.

Establishment of a development fund would benefit farmers and manufacturers also, says Bonsall: “Ireland benefits from a mild climate and long growing season and Irish farmers generate one of the highest levels of biomass growth per hectare in any of the EU member states. Establishing a stable market outlet for energy crops will allow Irish farmers to leverage this natural advantage, offering a new revenue stream and a means of diversifying their sources of income.”

He continues: “New and improved bio-based technologies are being developed for exportable products such as bio-plastics, bio-chemicals and biofuels. Establishing an industrial infrastructure for processing biomass will enable Ireland to capitalise on technological developments as they are developed. New markets are emerging for sustainably produced bio-products, and Ireland could be in a prime position to re-establish a strong bio-manufacturing base, exporting these products to a global market, the size of which will be measured in hundreds of billions of Euros.”

“Unfortunately Ireland lags behind other EU member states in the development of a bio-based economy, as initiatives undertaken in Ireland to date have not been sufficient or sufficiently integrated in a manner required to attract the requisite investment capital. Establishment of a bio-based infrastructure fund, however, together with other measures to promote advancement of this industry, will allow development of a productive industrial base that will enable Ireland to quickly catch up with their EU counterparts.”

The TCBB brings together researchers from NUI Galway, University of Limerick, Trinity, and UCD to work with Industry stakeholders like Bord na Móna, Glanbia, Biomass Heating Solutions, Cellulac and others on new bioenergy and biorefining technologies for Irish applications. The focus is on getting highly relevant and practical bio-based solutions for Irelandfrom the lab to the marketplace.

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