GlasPort Bio: making brass from muck

Irish Times Innovation awards finalist in the sustainability category on how their new product is good for agriculture and the environment

Dr Ruairi Friel, CEO and Prof Vincent O’Flaherty, Chief Scientific Officer of Glasport Bio.

Dr Ruairi Friel, CEO and Prof Vincent O’Flaherty, Chief Scientific Officer of Glasport Bio.

 

The value of manure as a fertiliser and a fuel source for anaerobic digestion (AD) renewable energy generating plants is widely known. What is not so well understand is that this value diminishes over time. During storage, the manure decomposes as a result of microbial activity with poor outcomes for the environment.

“As soon as the manure is produced, the microbes go to work and eat up the nitrogen and carbon producing ammonia and methane and other gases as byproducts,” explains Dr Ruairí Friel, chief executive of Galway-based company GlasPort Bio. “This is bad for the environment and the manure has a lower fertiliser value and produces less bioenergy.”

The company has developed a new product, GasAbate N+, which slows down the decomposition of the manure allowing it to retain more nutrients thereby increasing its value as a fertiliser and as a feedstock for AD electricity-generating plants.

The idea came about through the backgrounds of the three company founders. Friel is a microbiologist as is chief scientific officer Professor Vincent O’Flaherty, while chief commercial officer Killian O’Briain owns an animal feed business and comes from a strong agricultural background.

“It’s a project we’ve been working on for a number of years,” says Friel. “We have an interest in ways of inhibiting microbial processes and one of the things we looked at was the big problem faced by agriculture in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”

The GasAbate N+ product has been 10 years in development. “We developed it until we were quite sure the science was robust and that it would do what we said it would,” he says. “It’s one thing dealing with a few millimetres in the lab and quite another to treat tens of thousands of litres of slurry on a large farm. We had to make sure it would work for that. Once we had tested it to our satisfaction, we launched the company in early 2018.”

The product can be delivered in different forms, as a powder, a liquid or in capsules. The capsule form incorporates two powders blended together. The chemicals used are well known and have been proven to be safe to use, Friel points out.

“The user can drop a few capsules into the slurry tank every two to three weeks,” he adds. “It’s very simple from the user perspective.”

The company employs five people currently and plans to take on a further five or six next year.

“We are manufacturing the product at a small scale in-house at present,” Friel continues. “We are going through a lot of beta testing at the moment and we are working on that with partner farms and AD plant operators. We are going through final product modifications at present and will launch the commercial product in the early part of next year. We are currently in a seed round to raise €4 million and we are hoping to close that by the end of the first quarter of 2020.”

While Ireland has clear issues with agricultural GHG production, the product has clear global potential. “Manure accounts for 1.5 per cent of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, for example,” he points out. “We will initially focus on Europe as it is at the forefront of climate change action and has placed a particular priority on agriculture. Europe also has a strong AD generating sector. After that we will expand into the US and then the Oceanic, Australian and New Zealand markets. We hope to be in profit by 2022 or 2023 after scaling up and gaining a foothold in new markets up until then.”

Innovation will also continue at the company. “We have a good pipeline of new products. The current product is designed for dairy and beef cattle, but manure differs depending on the animal involved and we are developing products for swine and poultry wastes. We can address decomposition in a lot of organic materials. The domestic brown waste bin is an example and we are developing a product for householders to use.”

The future looks bright for GlasPort Bio. “It’s a very opportune time for the business to grow with the increased focus on climate change internationally,” Friel concludes. “There is also a big consumer push for companies to make their products greener. And this is coupled with the fact that end users can actually make a profit from using the product.”

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