Ireland to become centre for biodegradable plastic with €22m project

26 Apr 2018

Dairy by-products will be used at the bio-refinery to develop biodegradable plastic. Image: Matthew Dixon/Shutterstock

In a major win in the effort to develop biodegradable plastic, a new €22m Irish-based research project has been revealed with help from EU funding.

Our oceans are awash with plastic after decades of careless waste management, but companies across the globe have promised to drastically cut the amount they use, with plans to switch to more environmentally-friendly biodegradable plastic instead.

Now Ireland could develop the next generation of cleaner plastics with the announcement of €22m in funding for a new bio-economy research project to be led by Glanbia Ireland.

Called AgriChemWhey, the project will explore the development of a new state-of-the-art bio-refinery in Lisheen, Co Tipperary with a world-first process for converting by-products from the dairy industry into high-value bio-based products including biodegradable plastics.

Funded from the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the project is based on technology developed by Glanbia. It works by taking waste products created during milk harvesting, called whey permeate (WP) and delactosed whey permeate (DLP), and converts them into sustainable lactic acid.

Lactic acid can then be used in value-added, bio-based products for growing global markets, including biodegradable plastics, bio-based fertiliser and minerals for human nutrition.

This should help give the dairy industry and Irish society an opportunity for greater resource efficiency by reducing food waste.

AgriChemWhey has the potential for replication in other regions across Europe, contributing towards the development of the European bio-economy, its developers said.

Flagship for Europe’s growing bio-economy

From its base in Lisheen, the facility will offer a single hub to enable industry, entrepreneurs and researchers to scale technologies that convert Ireland’s natural resources to products of high value for use in a wide variety of sectors.

There is also an agreement to partner model demonstrator regions for sustainable chemicals in Ireland and in Belgium to examine policy development for market uptake of bio-based products.

Making the announcement, EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development Phil Hogan said: “I am very pleased to see this project receive funding under the BBI JU.

“AgriChemWhey is a highly innovative research project which, if successful, will serve as a flagship for Europe’s growing bio-economy, contributing towards a more resource-efficient European dairy sector with enormous potential for replication in other areas across Europe while also providing a boost to jobs and growth in Europe’s rural economy.”

Science Foundation Ireland director general Prof Mark Ferguson also welcomed the news saying: “Ireland is ranked second in the world for animal and dairy research, a topic of great strategic importance to this country, and it is a testament to the excellent research being undertaken across industry and academia that competitive European investments of this magnitude are won.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic