Glanbia-led research project receives €22 million funding boost from Europe

The European Commission today announced €22 million in funding for a new bio-economy research project to be led by Glanbia Ireland.

The project, called AgriChemWhey, will receive €22 million in funding from the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

It is the first dairy industry project to be awarded funding under the programme. The overall value of the project is €30 million with the balance of funding coming from the partners involved, according to Glanbia.

The project will explore the development of a new state-of-the-art, bio-refinery at Lisheen, Co Tipperary with a world-first process for converting byproducts from the dairy industry into high-value bio-based products including biodegradable plastics.

AgriChemWhey is based on “groundbreaking technology” developed and patented by Glanbia Ireland, in collaboration with University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin.

It builds on previous research programmes funded by Enterprise Ireland and research carried out within the Science Foundation Ireland funded Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) centre.

‘Flagship for European bio-economy’

Making the announcement today, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan said: “I am very pleased to see this project receive funding under the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking.

“AgriChemWhey 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.”

Speaking at the launch, Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, said: “I congratulate Glanbia and all the Irish partners involved in this ground-breaking award.

“Innovation is a key theme of the Food Wise 2025 strategy for the sustainable growth of the agri-food sector,” he added.

Projects such as AgriChemWhey will strengthen the environmental sustainability of the sector, while offering new opportunities for rural employment and development.

Philippe Mengal, executive director of BBI JU, commented: “All of us in BBI JU, together with our founding partners the European Commission and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) are very pleased to support this project.

“It is exciting to see Glanbia Ireland and its partners spearhead this research and innovation project as it gives us a clear indication that more actors see the potential offered by a sustainable and competitive bio-based sector for Europe and its citizens.”

The AgriChemWhey project will take low-value byproducts from the dairy processing industry – excess whey permeate and delactosed whey permeate – and convert them into “cost-competitive, sustainable” lactic acid, the processor claims.

Lactic acid can then be used in value-added bio-based products for growing global markets – including biodegradable plastics, bio-based fertiliser and minerals for human nutrition.

The new technology developed by Glanbia Ireland will provide both the dairy industry and wider society 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, Glanbia has said.

‘Cutting edge of agri processing’

Prof. Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland and chief scientific advisor to the Government, said: “Ireland is ranked second in the world for animal and dairy research, a topic of great strategic importance to this country.

“The technology garnered from this research will place Ireland at the cutting edge of sustainable agricultural processing, and provide an excellent test bed for the roll-out of new and innovative technologies in the dairy sector.”

Jim Bergin, CEO of Glanbia Ireland, concluded: “We are very excited about this R&D project which has the potential to harness the potential of byproducts from the dairy processing stream and to create a circular bio-economy for the dairy industry. I would like to thank our partners who have contributed to the project so far.”

Growth in milk production is set to continue, the processor says, as a result of increasing demand for whey protein for human and animal nutrition globally and the removal of milk production quotas in the EU in 2015.

This “underscores” the need for new technologies, products and markets to manage the associated waste streams, the company claims.

AgriChemWhey has the potential for replication in other regions across Europe, contributing towards the development of the European bio-economy to promote rural growth, competitiveness and job creation and aligning with European sustainability targets.

The new facility is planned for the new bio-economy innovation campus at Lisheen, Co. Tipperary on the site of the former Lisheen mines.

AgriChemWhey will also partner with Model Demonstrator Regions for sustainable chemicals in Ireland and in Belgium to examine policy development for market uptake of bio-based products and share best practice while working on common challenges together as part of the Irish Bioeconomy Association.

Partners in the AgriChemWhey project include:
  • Glanbia Ireland;
  • University College Dublin;
  • AMBER, School of Physics, Trinity College Dublin;
  • Commercial Mushroom Producers Cooperative Society Ltd (CMP), Ireland;
  • PNO Consultants Limited, UK;
  • GIG Karasek GmbH, Austria;
  • Tipperary County Council, Ireland;
  • Teagasc;
  • Pole Greenwin, Belgium;
  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium;
  • EW Biotech GmbH, Germany.