Put our slurry to good use

Copious amounts of slurry from Irish farms, as well as some of the million tonnes of food waste produced here annually, could be used to create energy, writes Donal Hickey

Put our slurry to good use

Studies show at least 10% of the population faces food poverty daily and the amount of waste food could fill Croke Park to the top, two and half times, according to Voice, the environment food charity.

Nobody wants wanton waste of food and, ideally, all surpluses should be given to those in need. But, some waste is unavoidable and such food materials could go to energy creation. This is not new thinking — we’re way behind many of our European neighbours in the field — but the prospect of EU- imposed fines of hundreds of millions of euro for failing to meet our renewable energy targets is adding urgency to government plans.

The EU has set a target for Ireland to provide 28% of our gas supplies from renewable sources by 2050. We’re talking about biogas, which is produced through the breakdown of matters such as slurry, sewage sludge, discarded food, plant materials and landfill waste. All relatively untapped energy sources, thus far.

Biogas can be used as vehicle fuel, for generating electricity and for cooking, heating and lighting. Then, there’s biomethane, which is almost completely pure methane produced after biogas has been purified and clean enough to inject into the national gas grid.

Ireland is committed to meeting a national renewable energy target of 16% by 2020. Within that target, we must meet 12% of our heating needs from renewable sources. In 2016, we were just over half way to meeting that target so, unsurprisingly, Climate Action and Environment Minister Denis Naughten recently highlighted an urgent need to make progress.

Due to large-scale investment in wind and solar energy, we are moving closer to our target for electricity, but have a lot of catching up to do in relation to heat. Germany, for instance, has almost reached saturation with around 8,000 biogas plants, while farmers in Denmark are coming together to form co-ops to collect slurry gas and pipe it to local purification plants.

At present, in relation to transport, the emphasis is on electricity-powered vehicles, but Ireland-South MEP Sean Kelly has stressed the importance of biofuels.

Replacing the transport fleet with electric vehicles will bring significant expense for the taxpayer and we need to have biofuels, which offer opportunities to farmers, in our fuel mix, he said.

Meanwhile, we continue to produce two tonnes of food waste in Ireland, per minute. This needs to be reduced but, where absolutely unavoidable, it should be a resource.

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