Bioeconomy Opportunities Explored at latest AGRIFORVALOR Event in Ireland

Teagasc Ashtown, April 12th 2017

Published on 20-04-2017 14:15:26 by AGRIFORVALOR

CakePHP Eight biobased challenges were tackled during the AgriForValor ‘Design for the Bioeconomy’ event held in Teagasc Ashtown on April 12th 2017.

The event brought experts in areas such as farming, forestry, food production, bio-based industries, research, policy, funding and academia together to explore opportunities for a bioeconomy in Ireland. The challenges explored included indigenous bioplastic production in Ireland, opportunities for straw, grass and meat residues, the value of whey and the opportunity to develop a bioeconomy cluster on the island of Ireland.

Dr. Helena McMahon and James Gaffey from the Institute of Technology Tralee opened the event with an introduction to the AgriForValor project and a look at best practice cases to show what is on the market and in development in the bioeconomy space. The “Design for the Bioeconomy” workshop followed, in which eight biobased challenges based on the Irish opportunity landscape were tackled by eight groups facilitated by the AgriForValor team members from the Institute of Technology Tralee, Teagasc, Ibec & the IFA. Using these challenges groups teased out potential opportunities, scoped innovative solutions and blue sky biobased ideas culminating in the pitching of the 8 highest potential ideas at the end of the session.

A group of dairy research and industry participants examined opportunities for small dairy co-operatives to increase their competitiveness by adding value to their whey residues. The group evaluated strategies for on-farm stabilisation and cooperative dynamics between small scale producers as a means of addressing the key hurdle of critical mass. Strategic partnerships with larger scale co-operatives for the production of protein solutions as well as for the spirits market were identified as having high potential.  Keeping a focus on value-added applications another group composed of bioplastic industry experts, researchers and feedstock suppliers looked at potential for indigenous bioplastic production. To achieve the scale necessary whey was considered an ideal feedstock, with sugarbeet also having some potential with quotas due to end this year. Polylactic acid and Polyhydroxyalkanoates were considered as potential bioplastic products, with building blocks isosorbide and biosuccinic acid also considered. In a third group, the development and dynamics of a national bioeconomy hub or cluster was considered by technology, funding and bioeconomy experts. The group evaluated how different companies (e.g. brewery, bakery, creamery. local farmers and multinationals) within a locality could work together to increase resource synergies. Opportunity areas included heat and steam recovery, and production of renewable energy and value-added products from residues.

A number of groups looked at challenges focused on adding value to agricultural residues. Farmers along with meat and grass valorisation experts explored opportunities for cattle farmers to valorise grass and meat residues, individually or as a co-operative.  Production of proteins from grass and meat, as well as grass-based insulation were considered, but a co-operative approach of anaerobic digestion of grass or “gas from grass” was seen as having greatest potential for farmers.

In another group farmers and technology stakeholders explored the most effective approach to allow farmers to meet on-farm heating needs using agricultural residues. Pyrolysis and biogas were considered as potential technologies. The group found that biogas clusters offered considerable opportunity for small-scale AD in Ireland, with heat being used on-farm and surplus biogas being transported to potentially large renewable energy users (e.g. multinationals like Facebook and Google) or to the grid. Another group of farmers this time with straw valorisation experts evaluated opportunities to add value to straw for tillage farmers who are unhappy with the current value from crops. Energy applications such as biogas and CHP were considered but straw-based insulation was considered to have greatest value.

A group of researchers and forestry stakeholders evaluated opportunities for a small forestry co-operative aiming to add value to the brash and branches remaining after harvesting. The group considered energy applications using torrefaction and pyrolysis as well as biobased products including lignin based carbon fibres. Finally, however the group agreed that mobilisation was an area of priority for the forestry sector and biomass trade centres would be key in bringing more forest biomass to the market. 

A final group considered the potential for locally sourced eco-construction materials for a growing niche market. Products like wood polymer composites were considered but the group finally agreed that natural fibre insulation for the domestic and commercial building sector and for the retrofit market offered most potential. Timber, straw, grass, wool and miscanthus could all be considered as feedstocks.

In the afternoon Peter Young from the Farmers Journal gave attendees an insight on how to hook the media when sharing your biobased story and how to create a successful press release. Following this a nominated member from each group pitched their idea to the room. To close out the day Stephen Nolan from Sustainable Nation Ireland outlined how biobased ideas get funded and the various funding opportunities currently available.

The “Design for the Bioeconomy” event has offered a starting point in establishing areas of opportunity for the Irish bioeconomy. Building on this bioeconomy event, the AgriForValor Hub through their facilitators will help to support these newly formed special interest groups to help bring these ideas to reality through a tailored support and mentoring programme over the next year.

To join the AgriForValor network in Ireland please contact James Gaffey or Cliodhna Dowling


Presentations from the Day:

Getting to Know AGRIFORVALOR – Dr. Helena McMahon, Institute of Technology Tralee

Bioeconomy Opportunities – James Gaffey, Institute of Technology Tralee

Telling Your Bioeconomy Story – Peter Young, Irish Farmers Journal

Funding Your Biobased Idea – Stephen Nolan, Sustainable Nation Ireland