In Ireland there is considerable potential for the utilisation of bioenergy as a renewable energy source. The agriculture sector is very advanced, and the climate and soil conditions are well suited for bioenergy crop production, meaning that high growth rates are possible.
However technical uncertainties, a lack of awareness and low financial returns meant that investment in bioenergy was stunted for a long time, leaving the market under-developed.
To reduce the uncertainties among farmers with regard to bioenergy crops, Ireland has initiated research into energy crops and Bio-processing at the Oak Park research centre in Carlow. The centre is controlled by Teagasc, the Irish national agriculture and food development authority, which is 75% funded by the national exchequer.
The centre possesses laboratories and workshops, equipped with up-to-date technologies, intended to keep Ireland at the forefront of crop science.
Research into energy crops, such as Miscanthus and Short Rotation Coppice Willow, are carried out, the results of which are made publicly available. Its primary research activities include increasing crop yields, efficient harvesting and logistics methods and the improvement of pellet production and quality. By sharing good practices, Oak Farm is informing farmers about the potential of different crops. The centre is also promoting sustainable practices, bearing in mind that energy crops face competition with food resources and land use.
Oak Park also focuses on advocating the business case for bioenergy crops. By carrying out economic evaluations of energy crops it is promoting market intelligence, and helps farmers to better understand their potential profits by providing support and advice tools. Via the dissemination of information the centre is raising awareness of bioenergy crops, which helps boost investment and develop the industry.
The prevalence of energy crops in Ireland has grown steadily in recent years, helped by the expert support of Oak Park. Between 2005-2010 total production increased by more than 600%, to account for 6% of Ireland’s total renewables production, compared to 1% at the start of the period.
Dedicated technical centres & experts, with a clear industrial focus, can help create economic opportunities by developing new and improved technologies that fit specific local requirements and resources. By gathering and disseminating information about what works in local conditions, such R&D centres can also help raise awareness and confidence in the relevant sector, especially among potential investors.
A dedicated R&D centre to support and promote industrial development is highly transferable both in terms of location and type of industry. Oak Park is therefore estimated to be 9 on the GML scale.