Professor Vincent O’Flaherty, from NUIG is leading research into making energy out of sewage. This research is being funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) as part of their STRIVE programme.
The process of turning sewage into energy starts with anaerobic digestion, a process of waste treatment that converts organic matter to biogas, a useable fuel and a renewable energy source. This process has advantages over the usual treatment process because it is more cost effective, but had not been used because of concerns regarding the stability and efficiency of its low temperature treatment.
The project aims to prove that this anaerobic digestion is suitable in the typical Irish climate and environment. The process has successfully operated at lab scale for over 500 days and it is the intention of the reseachers to scale-up in the coming months. If successful, this innovative approach will revolutionise the field of waste water treatment, realise a major commercial and technological opportunity and facilitate future sustainable development.
Speaking about the EPA’s investment in environmental technology research Dr Micheál Lehane, programme manager, EPA, said;
‘Through its research and innovation programme the EPA is laying the foundations for a greener economy. Researchers and businesses are developing technologies that will deliver environmental benefits while at the same time improving competitiveness. The EPA investment to date has already yielded wider economic benefits such as patents, licence agreements and in one case a spin-off company. We are confident that progress in this area can position Ireland at the forefront in one of the most rapidly growing international markets.”
Environmental technologies represent a key part of delivering on the objectives of Ireland’s Smart Economy. These are cleaner and resource-efficient technologies that can decrease material inputs, reduce energy consumption and emissions, recover valuable by-products, minimise waste disposal problems, or a combination of these. In the EU the sector currently employs 3.4 million people and turns over €227 billion annually. On a global scale, it is anticipated that the environmental technologies market will double from its present level to reach €2.3 trillion by 2020.
“The EPA is determined to play its part in the economic recovery of this country, and at the same time champion the cause of a clean and healthy environment as the basis for a strong economy in the future. I believe that the environmental technologies field provides a significant opportunity in this regard,” said Dr Lehane.