Whey to go: groundbreaking dairy project gets €22m in EU funding
Glanbia-led AgriChemWay initiative focused on converting dairy waste into high-value commodity
Phil Hogan, EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development, addressing Thursday’s event. Photograph: Jason Clarke
A research project which aims to convert one of the dairy industry’s biggest waste products into a series of high-value bio-based commodities, including biodegradable plastics, has secured €22 million in funding from the EU’s flagship research programme, Horizon 2020.
The funding announced for the Glanbia-led AgriChemWay project is the biggest tranche of funding secured by an Irish project under Horizon 2020 and has the potential to turn one of the biggest headaches for dairy processors into a multi-million euro industry.
The project is based on a technology developed and patented by Glanbia Ireland in collaboration with University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. It converts whey permeate, currently an unusable waste product of dairy processing, into lactic acid, which can then be used to make biodegradable plastics, fertiliser and minerals for human nutrition.
If successful, AgriChemWay will explore the development of a bio-refinery at Lisheen, Co Tipperary, on the site of the former Lisheen mines, which has now been earmarked as a new bio-economy hub.
Kilkenny-based Glanbia has transformed its business by using protein removed from whey to make a number of high-value performance nutrition products, which are now the most profitable part of its product portfolio.
However, up until now, it has struggled to redeploy or reuse the residual material - whey permeate and delactosed whey permeate.
The new technology hopes to provide the dairy industry with an opportunity for greater resource efficiency - less food waste, more products from the same starting material (milk), and integration of food and non-food material production.
Making the announcement, the EU commissioner for agriculture Phil Hogan said: “AgriChemWay is a highly innovative research project, which if successful, will serve as a flagship for Europe’s growing bio-economy, contributing towards a more resource efficient European dairy sector, with enormous potential for replication in other areas across Europe, while also providing a boost to jobs and growth in Europe’s rural economy”.
The Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said projects such as AgriChemWay would be key to strengthening the environmental sustainability of the dairy sector.
Jim Bergin, chief executive of Glanbia Ireland said: “We are very excited about this research and development project which has the potential to harness the potential of by-products from the dairy processing stream and to create a circular bio-economy for the dairy industry”.