Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Tapping grass potential

Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

Using grass as a source for alternative energy could offer a better return for Irish farmers, a UCC conference was told.

Dr Jerry Murphy, of UCC's Environmental Research Institute (ERI), said Ireland had an untapped resource for creating grass biomethane as a transport fuel.

"Ireland has 91pc of land under grass but this grassland is, at present, under used," he said. "There is a very low family farm income associated with beef farming but we're not allowed convert grassland to arable land because of cross compliance."

Dr Murphy and his colleagues contend that this underused resource could be the source of clean indigenous biofuel, free from the food/fuel debate and from land-use change issues.

"Grass biomethane has been shown to be a very sustainable renewable energy source in Germany and Austria.

"Germany has 4,700 digesters and expects to increase this number by 1,000 per annum and Austria has 600 digesters.

"Ireland has lots of slurry, slaughter waste and grass so there's no reason why we can't make anaerobic digesters to make biomethane to feed into the gas grid."

Dr Murphy says the concept already has the backing of Bord Gáis but what's now needed is Government support in the form of a better return for energy from gas. He said in Germany this is worth 22c per kW hour while in Ireland the rate was only 12c per kW hour.

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A paper published by the biofuels research group in the ERI suggests that 7pc substitution of natural gas by biomethane in Ireland is readily achievable by 2020 with grass as the dominant feedstock, the UCC conference heard.

This would be effected through 200 digesters at a scale of about 50,000t per annum. Typically each digester would cost €7m.

Dr Murphy said: "The industry will bring economic benefits, through reduced energy importation, reduced carbon fines, direct rural employment in operation of digesters, and re-employment of the construction workforce in building digesters."

Irish Independent