A UCD team is aiming to deliver a climate-neutral farm in Cork and extend its strategy to a further 5,000 farms within five years.
A project that is aiming to help an Irish dairy farm achieve net-zero emissions by 2027 has been awarded €2m in funding.
Prof Kevin O’Connor and his team at University College Dublin (UCD) received a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Future Innovator Prize for their Farm Zero C project.
This is aiming to deliver a climate-neutral farm in Cork, with plans to extend the strategy to a further 5,000 farms within five years.
In partnership with dairy company Carbery Group, the Farm Zero C team has studied how planting different types of grasses and clovers and supporting hedgerows can boost biodiversity and soil health. It has also focused on the use of renewable energy and how changing what we feed livestock can affect how much methane gas they produce.
‘Agriculture is a critically important sector for Ireland and dairy farms have huge potential to help address two existential challenges’
– PROF KEVIN O’CONNOR
A farm near Bandon in Co Cork will be used as a demonstrator for the project, with the goal of achieving net-zero emissions there by 2027.
A wider deployment will then use a mobile app to integrate farm and satellite data. This will provide users with information on the carbon footprint of their activities and help develop mitigation strategies.
“Agriculture is a critically important sector for Ireland, socially and economically, and dairy farms have huge potential to help Ireland to address two existential challenges: climate change and biodiversity loss,” said O’Connor, who is director of the SFI BiOrbic research centre at UCD.
“Farm Zero C is building a holistic plan to progressively bring farm emissions to net zero, enhance biodiversity, and integrate natural capital and digitalisation into the farm business.”
‘Innovative solutions to critical issues’
The SFI Future Innovator Prize was launched in 2018 as part of a Government plan to cultivate challenge-based funding in Ireland.
Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of SFI, said it also aims to accelerate “excellent and innovative solutions to critical societal and global issues”.
“The Farm Zero C project, led by Prof Kevin O’Connor, epitomises this ethos as it provides a solution that can enable Ireland’s important dairy farming industry to become carbon neutral.”
Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, who awarded the funding today (21 June), added that “innovative and disruptive ideas” such as Farm Zero C will become more important as the Government works towards the Climate Action Plan.
O’Connor’s team was awarded the €2m funding as part of the Future Innovator Prize’s Zero Emissions Challenge.
A special prize of €500,000 was also awarded to Dr Tony Keene and his team at UCD, who looked at bringing lithium cobalt batteries into the circular economy in a bid to decarbonise road transport.
Another €500,000 prize was awarded to Dr David McCloskey’s team at Trinity College Dublin for a cost-effective technology to improve the efficiency of existing and future solar panels.
The first SFI Future Innovator Prize was awarded last year to Dr Alison Liddy of NUI Galway, who worked on a project to treat chronic pain. Other programmes in the initiative that are currently ongoing include the SFI Food Challenge and the SFI Plastics Challenge, which each have a prize fund of €2m.