Turning dairy waste water cost into industry asset

Experts from the Irish dairy processing industry and national and international research institutes joined forces at a recent DairyWater workshop looking at how water is dealt with in the industry.

DairyWater is a multi-stakeholder research project led by NUI Galway.

It is attempting to develop innovative solutions for the efficient management of water consumption, waste water treatment and the resulting energy use within the country’s dairy processing industry.

Representatives from a number of major Irish dairy companies attended the event. These included Arrabawn Dairies, Aurivo Co-Op, Dairygold, Glanbia, Lakeland Dairies, Auriol Co-op and Nestle’s Wyeth Nutritionals, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The unprecedented rise in Irish milk production since the abolition of quotas, combined with cripplingly-low dairy prices, has called for increased efficiencies and sustainability within the Irish dairy processing industry, the workshop was told.

In 2013, when we were expecting the increase in milk production for 2015, they put together this project proposal to increase the efficiency and sustainability in dairy processing plants,” said Dr William Finnegan from NUI Galway, DairyWater Project Manager and post-doctorate researcher on the project.

“Because we were hosting the workshop, a big thing for us was to show the industry what we’ve achieved to date,” said Finnegan.

“From our point of view, I’ve found we’ve got increased engagement from the industry.”

Staying Ahead Of The Waste Water Game

“If Ireland is to remain one of the largest exporters of dairy products in the world, strategic measures to reduce the industry’s environmental impacts need to be adopted now,” said a statement from NUI Galway about the DairyWater workshop.

“This will be even more essential as the emission limits of plants, currently imposed by the EPA, are predicted to become increasingly more stringent over the coming years.

Additionally, dairy companies will need to increase their influence on farm-based activities so as to reduce their environmental impacts.”

DairyWater is led by Professor Xinmin Zhan in Civil Engineering at the College of Engineering and Informatics and the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway.

The project also involves leading research groups at University College Cork, Trinity College Dublin, Athlone IT and Teagasc.

Issues

The main issues identified by various speakers at the workshop related to water footprint, energy and chemical inputs to waste water treatment, the lack of water reuse within plants and sludge management options.

One of the greatest challenges of the industry when treating the large volumes of waste water generated is the removal of phosphorus. Dr Kees Roest from the KWR Watercycle Research Institute in the Netherlands, presented his experiences in the removal and recovery of the nutrient.

Willie Murphy from Auriol Co-Op told the workshop about how it introduced a biomass boiler to the plant at Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. He stressed the benefits, both environmentally and financially, that they have seen since the commencement of its operation.

“A lot of processors have their own waste water treatments plants. Whose capacity would depend on the size of the plant,” said Finnegan.

He added that Auriol’s Ballaghaderreen plant, for example, is probably bigger than the water treatment plant of an average-sized town.

“So they are pretty large, as well as the strength of the waste water they have to treat,” Finnegan said.

He added that the processing industry will seek to examine the indirect emissions caused by processing plants.

Indirectly, if you’ve got a fuel that is very energy intensive to get to the door, such as oil, it needs to be accounted for as well, rather than just the direct emissions on-site.”

He concluded by saying that NUI Galway planned to host a similar workshop in 12-18 months’ time.