How farms could get 40% more usable protein from grass

How farms could get 40% more usable protein from grass
These mobile refineries can process two tonnes of fresh grass per hour.

In West Cork next week, farmers and others will see how versatile a raw material grass can be, during the Biorefinery Glas farm bioeconomy demonstration day at Bandon.

Grass already powers our dairy and beef industries, but there’s so much more it can do, according to the Biorefinery Glas EIPAgri Operational Group.

On Thursday, July 11, the Group will host a free small-scale biorefinery field demonstration event, in conjunction with Teagasc, at Shinagh farm in Bandon.

Tours of those attending will be conducted from 11 am to 1 pm, and from 2 pm to 4 pm.

The project’s mobile refinery has been travelling through Ireland, to demonstrate how grass can be turned into valuable materials that could give farmers new sources of income.

The mobile refinery can process two tonnes of fresh grass per hour.

It’s a way of fully utilising grass.

In fact, Biorefinery Glas aims to increase the usable protein from grass by 40%.

Grass goes in at one end, and one of the products coming out the other end is an ideal feed for dairy or beef cattle, because it contains only the particular grass proteins that are used more efficiently by cattle.

And the cattle eating this generate less greenhouse gas emissions than if they were eating untreated grass.

The remainder of the grass proteins can be siphoned off to make a concentrate feed for pigs or chickens, which again has only the proteins they can digest efficiently.

This feed can replace imported feeds, another small step towards carbon neutrality, by reducing emissions.

Currently, Ireland imports thousands of tonnes of high-protein animal feed ingredients such as soya.

Growing the soya crop is one of the main commodities driving deforestation in South America, a key source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU wants to reduce its dependence on these imported protein ingredients, and the biorefinery can play a role, by better utilising the proteins from our homegrown grasses.

It’s no coincidence that this project is happening in Ireland, because we are the only country in Europe that is more than 50% grassland.

So we have more than enough raw material for biorefineries.

Another co-product from the biorefinery is fructo- oligosaccharide (prebiotic sugar), which is potentially valuable for the human and animal nutritional markets.

Also produced are large volumes of nutrient-rich whey can be used as a fertiliser or for biomethane production (in anaerobic digesters, which can also play an important renewable energy role).

As for fertiliser from a grass biorefinery, it can replace synthetic fertiliser, thus making further inroads into Ireland’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

There are many other possibilities, in a world which has to turn its back on fossil fuels, if global warming is to be slowed.

Grass could supply many of the bio-based alternatives to the fossil fuels which are the sources of much of the materials we use every day — such as plastic items.

Because of these myriad possibilities, the Biorefinery Glas project is looking down the road at how biorefineries could fit into the rural economy. If enough farmers visit the mobile biorefinery demonstrations, and express an interest in getting involved, a network could be established to prove the potential of the concept. Already, the project envisages roles for Ireland’s strong agricultural co-operative structure, to evaluate new routes to market for farmers using biorefineries, for example, linking grass growers up with chicken and pig farms that would buy the protein feed.

It could be a business well suited to a co-op structure, with biorefineries visiting farms, doing small-scale grass processing.

The Biorefinery Glas project is Ireland’s first step looking at grass-based bioeconomy options for Ireland.

But it’s part of what the EU sees as a key strategy to address some of the most pressing environmental challenges, by turning to the bioeconomy, of which agriculture is a major part.

EU leaders suggest the bioeconomy, if fully utilised, could create an additional one million jobs by 2030, generally in rural or coastal areas where employment is needed to curb the exodus to cities.

The EU plans to invest €10 billion during the 2021-27 period to help the bioeconomy take shape.

One of world’s first small-scale biorefinery demonstration projects

Biorefinery Glas is among the world’s first small-scale biorefinery demonstration projects.

This EU Agricultural European Innovation Partnership (EIP-AGRI) project was launched in 2018, co-funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, and the EU, with the project led by the Institute of Technology, Tralee, awarded €940,000 of project funding, and partnering with University College Dublin, the Carbery Group, Barryroe Co-Operative, and Grassa BV, (a Wageningen University, Netherlands, spinout company).

Barryroe Co-op is a farmer-owned multi-purpose agribusiness, built around milk processing.

It is one of four west Cork co-ops supplying milk to Carbery Group, a leading global manufacturer of speciality and nutritional dairy ingredients as well as flavours and cheeses.

Grassa BV is a green biorefinery technology developer.

UCD is a leading research-intensive university in agriculture and the bioeconomy.

In the project, it will be demonstrated how an automated and low-cost biorefinery could profitably be replicated across Ireland, addressing fodder and emissions challenges for beef and dairy farmers.

Biorefinery Glas looks at moving farmers further up the value-chain, from suppliers of low-cost biomass to bio-processors.

The project is now in a demonstration phase.

Next week’s demo day invites farmers and stakeholders from the wider agricultural and bioeconomy sectors to come and see a live demonstration of the biorefinery in operation, and they can meet key project personnel.

They will be introduced to the concept of bioeconomy and biorefineries as potential diversification opportunities for the agri-sector.

They will learn about the process used to improve the resource efficiency of grass, and the resulting new products.

- For more information on the project, visit biorefineryglas.eu/

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