Sustainability category winner: Glasport Bio
Tackling agricultural emissions at source
Agriculture accounts for well over a third of Ireland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and has been the focus of some quite heated debate in terms of its contribution to meeting climate action targets. But practical solutions, other than simply reducing the number of cattle in the country, have been thin on the ground up until now.
"Reducing emissions is particularly challenging for agriculture because unlike other sectors there are no low or no-emitting replacement technologies available," says Dr Ruari Friel, who co-founded NUI Galway-based biotechnology company Glasport Bio with partners Prof Vincent O'Flaherty and Killian O'Briain in 2018.
“Currently, the only solution being offered to tackle the problem is to reduce the livestock population and this is clearly not viable given the impact it would have on the sector and the need for increased food production to feed the world,” he continues. “This is the situation we set out to address.”
The company targets methane emissions both from animal manure and from the animals themselves. “The reason why we focus on methane is that it is 30 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas,” Friel explains. “It only persists in the atmosphere for 12 years or so. That means we can have real near-term impact on overall levels by addressing it now.”
The issue is not quite as straightforward as applying technology to reduce emissions, he points out. There must be an economic return to the farmer as well if they are to be encouraged to invest in the solution. He notes that Irish farmers operate on desperately thin margins and that any increase in costs needs to be accompanied by a visible return on investment.
Back in 2019, Glasport Bio developed a solution that met both of these objectives. Its GasAbate product is an additive which slows down the decomposition of manure allowing it to retain more nutrients thereby increasing its value as a fertiliser and as a feedstock for anaerobic digestion (AD) electricity-generating plants.
Value of manure
The value of manure as a fertiliser and a fuel source for AD renewable energy generating plants is widely known. But that value diminishes over time as the manure decomposes as a result of microbial activity during storage.
“As soon as the manure is produced, the microbes go to work and chew up the nitrogen and carbon producing ammonia and methane and other gases as byproducts,” Friel explains. “This is bad for the environment and the manure produces less bioenergy. It also has a lower fertiliser value and that means the farmer has to purchase additional fertilisers. The price of fertiliser has doubled or tripled over the last year. Anything that can improve the quality of manure is very valuable to farmers.”
The product works by targeting micro-organisms known as methanogens. “We target them to inhibit their activity,” says Friel. “We don’t kill them, we just put a damper on them. We stop them producing methane by putting a blocker on a specific pathway.”
GasAbate has been trialled successfully on a dairy farm and a pig firm and the company hopes to launch the product onto the market later this year or early in 2023.
The success of that product led to the latest innovation, Rumenglas, an additive to animal feed which also targets methanogens and prevents the production of methane in a cow’s digestive tract.
This has enormous environmental and economic potential as some 60 per cent of agricultural emissions come from methane burped out by cows and up to 12 per cent of the energy value of the grass and feed they consume is lost to the methanogens turning it into methane.
“It’s a slight tweak to the technology,” says Friel. “We are not interfering with the digestive system in any way. When the cow eats grass it needs the bugs in its rumen to break them down. Methanogens take some of it and turn it into methane which the cow burps out. They are not really serving a useful purpose. We are already starting to see benefits in animal trials. Farmers should get more milk from dairy cattle and faster weight gain for beef cattle. That will deliver an immediate economic return. We hope to launch the product in 2025 once we get through all the trials and approval processes.”
Runner up: Grant Engineering
A greener alternative to fossil fuels
More than 600,000 homes in Ireland will need to be retrofitted to meet 2030 carbon-reduction targets. However, electrification of heating is difficult and expensive so another option such as the use of biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels in oil boilers can offer a greener and more cost-effective alternative.
Grant Engineering, the Birr-based company which has led the way in the development of high-efficiency condensing oil boilers for many years, has now developed a unit capable of running on 100 per cent biofuel.
"Over recent years, our R&D team has worked with third-level institutions, industry partners and renewable fuel producers to focus on more sustainable and carbon-saving fuels and on developing our boilers to be biofuel-compatible," says managing director Stephen Grant.
The research involved successfully using a biofuel called Fame (fatty acid methyl esters) which could be used as a 30 per cent blend with regular kerosene. However, the breakthrough arose when the trials successfully demonstrated the Grant Vortex boiler using a 100 per cent biofuel known as HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil).
HVO feedstocks include rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil and non-food oils as well as waste and residue oils. The materials it uses and its method of production are more sustainable than FAME and it is already used as a fuel for marine and public transport in the UK and elsewhere.
“All Grant Vortex boilers can now take a biofuel at up to a 30 per cent blend with kerosene or indeed can operate using 100 per cent HVO biofuel,” Grant says. “There are only minimum changes and modifications required. Switching to a Grant boiler with this new innovative technology will allow homeowners to make a significant reduction in their carbon emissions. Our boiler can reduce carbon emissions immediately without costing the State or the homeowner a lot of money while still guaranteeing the customer comfort in their home.”
Runner up: Vivid Edge
Turning energy efficiency into an asset class
With energy costs skyrocketing in recent months and unlikely to come down any time soon, companies are searching with increasing desperation for solutions which will cut their bills and their carbon footprints.
Energy efficiency specialist Vivid Edge has developed a very timely energy upgrade as a service offering when enables large energy user customers to engage in net zero projects at no initial capital cost.
According to the company, many organisations could be wasting 30 per cent or more of their energy by using inefficient equipment. Vivid Edge helps customers unlock these savings by upgrading their energy-using infrastructure such as heating, cooling, lighting and control systems which are paid for through a monthly service fee that is covered by the energy savings made. Vivid Edge bears the initial capital cost as well as the full project and performance risk.
Typical Vivid Edge customers include healthcare facilities, data-processing companies and large pharma and telecoms organisations in Ireland, the UK, Europe and the Middle East.
Company founder Tracy O’Rourke describes the offering as “a simple customer proposition underpinned by an innovative approach to risk, contract structuring and energy efficiency. We give customers a hassle-free project and peace of mind as they only pay for projects once they are fully installed and the benefits commence.”
She describes the customer offering as simple, but behind it is a smart risk model based on in-depth understanding of energy efficiency as an asset class and domain expertise in risk, finance and deal structuring.
“We want to change how net-zero projects are delivered,” says O’Rourke. “Global annual investment in energy efficiency must increase tenfold by 2050 to meet G20 climate goals, but despite its scale it is a highly fragmented market with alternative funding and delivery models only starting to evolve. We wanted to develop a business that was commercially innovative but also fulfilled a critical social need.”