The EU is rapidly moving to replace the petro-chemical technologies that have created unprecedented historical wealth and prosperity with new, sustainable bio-technologies that utilise renewable resources, according to Teagasc.

It says that the European bio-economy employs some 21.5 million people and presents an annual market worth over €2 trillion, with significant potential for further growth.

Further, Teagasc says that EU Member States supplement food production with sustainable technologies for production of biofuels, bio-fertilisers, bio-chemicals and bio-plastics.

This development is designed to mitigate the resultant environmental issues caused by dumping billions of tonnes of petro-chemical emissions into the atmosphere, as well as social issues that will arise as finite supplies of mineral resources are depleted. Development of these new technologies opens up new, lucrative markets that are only just beginning to be exploited.

Ireland has many natural resources that can be leveraged to sustainably produce new forms of bio-products and engineer new process technologies; however, it is only beginning to use these resources to tap new bio-economic opportunities, Teagasc says.

It goes on to say that the economic value of Ireland’s current bio-products are at the lower end of the value spectrum (e.g. commodity food products and bio-energy) and development of much more lucrative bio-chemicals or bio-materials outputs has not yet been prioritised. Other potential opportunities may be underexploited (e.g. the marine sector) or overlooked altogether (e.g. resource recovery and redeployment). In this rapidly changing environment is Ireland in danger of losing out in the growing bio-economy?

A multi-disciplinary research team, led by Teagasc, and including the Technology Centre for Biorefining and Bioenergy (TCBB) at NUI Galway, Crop Science & Biosystems Engineering at UCD and the Environmental Sustainability & Health Institute at Dublin Institute of Technology, has been funded by a 2014 DAFM/Stimulus research grant to address how Ireland can capitalise on these new developments.

Over a two-year period starting in December 2014, this team will undertake research to assess Ireland’s natural resources and core strengths, and match these to global market opportunities.

It will then systematically identify up to eight commercial opportunities that could be viably deployed by Irish-based producers and companies in the short-term, and make recommendations on the development frameworks that could be introduced to underpin commercial exploitation of these opportunities. Such frameworks will relate to R&D programmes, policies, regulatory measures, market supports, funding mechanisms and other initiatives.

The project co-ordinator Dr Maeve Henchion of Teagasc says Teagasc is very pleased that DAFM awarded €300,000 for this project, which will actively seek participation from the stakeholders that are needed to successfully develop Ireland’s bio-economy.