Sponsored content is premium paid-for content produced by the Irish Times Content Studio on behalf of commercial clients. The Irish Times newsroom or other editorial departments are not involved in the production of sponsored content.

The technology centre driving growth and sustainability in Irish dairy processing

DPTC produces industry-led research with an emphasis on technical advances

Founded in 2014, the Dairy Processing Technology Centre (DPTC) is the Enterprise Ireland technology centre focused on driving future growth and sustainability in the Irish dairy processing sector, through advances in processing and sustainable manufacturing. It aims to provide a step change to Irish dairy processors with high quality pre-competitive research, delivering significant technical impact and economic value for the sector. It is now firmly established as the go-to organisation for industry-led dairy research, with an emphasis on technical and process advances.

Hosted by the University of Limerick, the DPTC is one of eight such centres around the country which focus on different areas, such as advanced manufacturing, AI, microelectronics, pharmaceuticals and food.

The centre's origins date back to the run-up to the abolition of the EU milk quota regime in 2015. It was forecast, correctly, that this would lead to an increase in milk production in Ireland of 50 per cent and would represent substantial opportunity for growth for Irish dairy processors, as well as challenges in how to sustainably convert that increased supply into high-value-added product and maximise return on investment.

"Dairy is our most important indigenous industry sector and the centre was set up in recognition of its needs," says DPTC director Anne Marie Henihan. "The centres operate in five-year cycles and we entered our second cycle in August 2020.


“We are funded by Enterprise Ireland with support from our industry partners. We have seven primary processor industry partners who are collectively responsible for processing 90 per cent of Ireland’s milk output. We also have a remit to increase the number of partners, and this will focus on the supply chain to include firms, like software providers, to the industry, and on smaller artisan producers.”


The centre also works with seven research organisation partners, including several universities and Teagasc. "It really is a partnership based on true collaboration," says Henihan.

“We are different to the SFI centres in that we are industry led. Our industry partners come to us and tell us about their needs and challenges. In phase one we had a number of research pillars which provided a lot of benefits to industry. In phase two we have refined those into the two primary areas of milk composition, driven adaptive processing and sustainable processing.”

The challenges presented by the rapid increase in output have been compounded by Ireland’s unique grass-based dairy production system. “It is a seasonable production system with inherent variability,” Henihan says.

“We work to gain an in-depth understanding of this variability and the issues it creates for the industry. We operate within the factory gate and focus on the processing system. We support our dairy processing partners to produce high-quality products once the milk arrives on site.”

The aim is to develop processing solutions that allow for the controlled production of high-quality products consistently. “They can only produce some products at certain times of the year, and if we can expand the production window by even a week that can make a huge difference.”

Those solutions also involve the application of AI , machine learning and other advanced technologies to processing systems. Henihan says that this will enable the processors to react in real time to variations in milk quality and composition and make tweaks to the process to optimise product quality and yield.


This also reduces waste. “Sustainability pervades everything we do,” she adds.

She also notes that sustainability is now a key issue for the industry. “Our industry partners understand the moral and economic imperative,” she says.

“Irish dairy processors have the opportunity to lead in the transition to a low-carbon economy and society, through the adoption of transformative technological practices and to become global leaders in sustainable food processing.

“Ireland can differentiate from its competitors and build on the platform of strong sustainability credentials while, at the same time, increasing overall profitability and competitiveness, particularly at a time of global trade uncertainty.”

The centre works with the industry on areas such as waste reduction, water recovery and sludge management. "One such exciting example is the University of Limerick Reflow project, which addresses the technical and socioeconomic challenges associated with the recovery of phosphorous from dairy processing wastewater and its recycling into fertiliser products, enabling sustainable expansion of the dairy industry in Europe. "

Henihan highlights the importance of collaboration in the development of these solutions. “I can’t emphasise it enough. You get nowhere on your own. We are tapping into the expertise that exists within the industry and academia.

“The commitment of our industry partners is second to none. They come in with their sleeves rolled up ready to engage with us. We are building on the partnerships and collaborative relationships developed over the first five years.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times