Eco-innovation 'offers opportunity'


New “eco-innovation” technologies being developed in Ireland and elsewhere offer a major opportunity for the EU economy, the Environmental Protection Agency has said.

The EPA today published a review of its ‘Strive’ – science, technology, research and innovation for the environment – programme.

Strive – Innovation for a Green Economy – Environment and Technology: a Win-Win storyoutlines 18 projects that offer solutions to general environmental problems, or solutions to issues faced by business and industry in dealing with the impact of their activities on the environment.

Among the case studies highlighted is a project led by Dr Kevin O’Connor at UCD. The research team led by Dr O’Connor has patented technology for the conversion of plastic bottles into biodegradeable plastic. Some 70 million bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are managed in Ireland every year, but the vast majority of such plastic ends up in landfill.

Of the 18 large-scale projects funded by the EPA in 2005-2006, the research investment led to the filing of five patents with seven more at preparation stage. The investment also led to a spin-off company, Bioplastech Ltd, which emerged from Dr O'Connor's project.

About 200 new researchers and innovators in Irish universities and industries have been funded under the EPA scheme since 2005.

“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is laying the foundations for a greener economy through active support for environmental research and innovation,” said the organisation’s director general Dr Mary Kelly today.

She said there was a “strong need” to continue to prioritise environmental research and innovation investment.

This would support the continued development of the environmental goods and services sector, as well as contributing to environmental protection.

“While Ireland is facing unprecedented economic challenges, it is also the case that significant environmental challenges remain," said Dr Kelly.

“The EPA Strive programme addresses both sets of challenges by improving the delivery of positive environmental outcomes while fostering a strong innovation culture, particularly in the environmental technologies area.

“Researchers and businesses are developing technologies that will deliver environmental benefits while improving competitiveness. We are confident that progress in this area can position Ireland at the forefront in one of the most rapidly growing international markets.”

According to the EPA, so-called “eco-innovation” is a major opportunity for the EU economy.

“In the EU, the sector currently employs 3.4 million people and turns over €227 billion annually. On a global scale, it is anticipated that the environmental technologies market will double from its present level to reach €2.3 trillion by 2020,” today’s report said.

The EPA report also said that proposed funding for the development of national shared research facilities, including the EPA-supported Environmental Technology Ireland Centre, was “crucially important” to provide infrastructure for a more innovative, green and high-skilled economy.

Minister for the Environment John Gormley said: "The work funded through the Strive programme is showing us how to respond to environmental problems in a new and creative manner, employing solutions generated by research initiated and progressed right here in Ireland."