Bord na Móna is considering growing medicinal cannabis on Irish bogs as part of ambitious plans to repurpose the organisation.
The semi-State company has made "a significant multimillion-euro investment" in a number of new climate-friendly projects to try and replace jobs that will be lost as it phases out environmentally unsustainable peat harvesting across the midlands.
Its analysis suggests potential exists for it to create up to 800 jobs in the midlands from the new projects.
"The growth of medicinal cannabis is being considered to see if it fits with the company's new low-carbon, sustainable business model," said a Bord na Móna spokesman.
Planting trials for medicinal herbs are already underway on an area of reclaimed bog at Bord na Móna's Mountlucas wind farm in Co Offaly. Plants including yarrow, plantain, marshmallow and vervain were planted in the last 10 days. Bord na Móna hopes that the herbs will be used to supply the health and pharma sectors, it is understood.
"The herbs themselves are species typically grown on peatland. The trials will test if they can be produced in a sustainable commercial way for supply to the pharma or broader health sectors," said a company spokesman.
Medicinal cannabis - for which there is a rapidly growing multibillion-euro market - was not included in the planting trials because a licensing and regulatory process must first be undertaken nationally before it can be grown commercially.
Other projects chosen for the 'Brown to Green Strategy' include an ongoing aquaculture pilot project with Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) that has developed a trial fish farm with 300,000 perch and trout.
The 'closed loop' fresh water facility at Mountlucas did not require any concrete or plastic because of the naturally impermeable soil in the cutaway bog. "There is a potential market globally of tens of billions of euros for low carbon freshwater fish as a food source," said the spokesman.
It has also partnered with a maple syrup company from Vermont to tap birch trees growing on Irish bogs. "In February and March we used the same technology as is used to tap a maple tree to extract sap from wild birch trees to be pasteurised for use as a health product similar to coconut water but with lower calories. The trials were encouraging and took 20,000 litres from one hectare in Longford."
Birch grows very well in rehabilitated bog and it is completely organic because pesticides have never been used in the area, said the spokesman.
“The company is going through a period of profound change at the moment,” he said.
“That involves moving away from the traditional businesses, accelerating the decarbonisation process and reorienting the company more towards renewable energy and resource recovery.”
The company is also developing a stream of new business projects that can be co-located with renewable energy assets such as wind and solar farms that it hopes to develop on Ireland’s bogs, he said.
As part of this the company is also looking at developing “energy parks” on the sides of motorways that pass through Bord na Móna bogs where electric vehicles can recharge using renewable energy generated nearby.
Bord na Móna said that the key criteria for each of the new projects is that they use the company’s existing assets, are environmentally sustainable, support sustainable employment and support the development of a low-carbon economy in the midlands.
“There is a big push on these projects because there is such an urgency for the company and the region to replace employment.
“We have a window until the middle part of the next decade to achieve a managed transition out of high carbon activities and to turn Bord na Móna into a low-carbon company,” said the spokesman.
The new projects are only at the trial stage to see if business cases can be developed for scaling them into commercial enterprises, he said.
“But we are getting good results so far. It is a challenge to go from trials to bring these ideas to business form but we are getting great support from the Government and other state agencies.”
Sunday Indo Business