Ethanol requirement to inform any sugar industry revival plan
The requirement that Ireland replace almost 140,000t of oil-based transport fuel with ethanol by 2020 must inform any decision on the possible revival of the local sugar industry.
Teagasc crops scientist Professor Jimmy Burke pointed out that the EU Renewable Energy Directive of 2009 contained a mandatory target for all member states to achieve 10pc substitution of their transport energy needs from renewable sources by the end of the decade.
In plans submitted by the Irish Government to Brussels, it was envisaged that 27pc of this target, or 139,000t, would be supplied as ethanol. However, current Irish non-potable ethanol production does not exceed 14,000t.
"If there is no increase in Irish production, the country will be forced to import the remainder. This would be fraught with risk that the price of ethanol imports could increase sharply as 2020 approaches and that imports from several non-EU countries will come under pressure because of sustainability and food versus fuel concerns," Prof Burke said.
"If any new industry was to happen in the future, then it is my view that the plant would take the form of an integrated bio-refinery whose output would consist of a range of products with maximum added value including bioethanol, sugar, biogas, bioenergy with the option of using the molasses by-product from sugar extraction to produce betaine as well as ethanol.
"The use of some beet pulp as a feedstock for the production of biogas and as a source of plant heat and power could also be an option."
However, Prof Burke accepted that allowing Ireland to resume white sugar production would be a political decision which would necessitate a volte face by the EU Commission.