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Converting Organic Waste into Energy

Ireland is lagging behind the rest of Europe in using Anaerobic Digestion to produce energy from organic waste. This technology could help Ireland meet some of the challenges of combating climate change and improving energy security. The targets under the EU 2020 Climate Change and Energy package are challenging and require innovative approaches to develop renewable sources of energy domestically, particularly for heat and transport.

Delegates at a major international conformance, AD Europe 2011, which is taking place in Dublin, today, heard how one quarter of the potential biodegradable waste produced in Europe is used to produce biogas through Anaerobic Digestion. The conference was organised by the European Compost Network (ECN) and Cré, (The Composting and Anaerobic Digestion Association of Ireland) with the support of Teagasc.

Dr Jane Gilbert, Chair of ECN said that there are 195 large AD sites with a capacity for 5.9 million tonnes of organic waste in Europe, and an additional 7,500 agricultural digesters which digest agriculture residues, energy crops and organic waste.” She pointed out that there is large potential for CO2 savings, soil improvement and to recycle nutrients using AD.

Biogas is a methane rich gas developed when micro-organisms decompose organic materials in an oxygen free environment in an Anaerobic Digester. The resulting biogas can produce heat and electricity or it can be upgraded and sold as a transport biofuel or injected into the gas grid. Biogas can be supplied from crops (grass), farm by-products (slurry or manure), and from organic waste (brown bin municipal waste).

Teagasc Bioenergy Specialist Barry Caslin said: “These potential feedstocks are indigenous and renewable, and they can provide largely carbon free renewable sources of energy and enhance security of supply while reducing the environmental impacts of waste disposal. There is a need to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions and AD can contribute to this, while helping to meet national obligations for renewable energy for transport and heat provision in Ireland.”

County Limerick dairy and poultry farmer, David McDonnell, Chairman of the Cré Anaerobic Digestion Committee, said that the new tariff for Anaerobic Digestion being introduced in Northern Ireland has now received EU approval. He urged the incoming government in Ireland to take the necessary steps to finalise the new tariffs for AD in Ireland and to further improve them to encourage the broad scale development of AD projects across the country.

At the conference on Friday, Teagasc Researcher, Dr Padraig O‘Kiely will present a paper on using grass to produce biogas. He will outline results from research on the best grass species for an energy crop AD plant in Ireland.