NUI Galway-led research project, ‘DairyWater’ recently hosted a workshop on achieving sustainability within the dairy processing industry.
Since the abolition of quotas at the end of March 2015, the Irish dairy industry has seen an unprecedented rise in milk production. This increase, coupled with low milk prices, has instigated an immediate need for increased efficiencies and sustainability within the Irish dairy processing industry.
The workshop brought together experts from national and international research institutes and the Irish dairy processing industry. Along with the invited guest speakers, representatives from a number of major Irish dairy companies, including Arrabawn Dairies, Aurivo Co-Op, Dairygold, Glanbia, Lakeland Dairies and Nestle’s Wyeth Nutritionals, and the EPA attended the event.
DairyWater, a multi-stakeholder research project funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, is developing innovative solutions for the efficient management of water consumption, wastewater treatment and the resulting energy use within the country’s dairy processing industry. DairyWater is led by Professor Xinmin Zhan in Civil Engineering at the College of Engineering and Informatics and the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway. The project also involves leading research groups at University College Cork, Trinity College Dublin, Athlone IT and Teagasc.
The aim of the workshop was to discuss the main environmental concerns of the Irish dairy processing industry and identify strategic research areas, concurrently offering an opportunity to showcase the work being performed within the DairyWater project. Dr Mark Fenelon from Teagasc gave an overview of the current status of the industry, while Rory Farrell from Lakelands Dairies discussed his experiences as the Environmental Manager of a dairy plant located in Killashandra, Co. Cavan. The main issues identified by the two speakers related to water footprint, energy and chemical inputs to wastewater treatment, the lack of water reuse within plants and sludge management options.
The environmental impacts associated with the industry as a result of dairy plant operations was also discussed. Willie Murphy from Auriol Co-Op introduced the recently installed biomass boiler, which is located at their Ballaghaderreen site, and the benefits, both environmentally and financially, that they have seen since the commencement of its operation. The use of life cycle assessment to quantify the environmental impacts of the industry was then discussed by Dr Mingjia Yan from UCD and Dr William Finnegan from NUI Galway who presented the initial assessment results performed within the DairyWater project. The life cycle assessment quantifies a number of environmental impacts, including climate change and eutrophication of water.
One of the greatest challenges of the industry when treating the large volumes of wastewater generated is the removal of phosphorus. Dr Kees Roest from the KWR Watercycle Research Institute in The Netherlands, presented his experiences in the removal and recovery of the nutrient. Emma Tarpey from NUI Galway presented a novel technology that is being explored in the DairyWater project, which uses biological phosphorus removal mechanisms. These mechanisms are significantly cheaper than the chemical technologies currently employed by the industry.
Kelly Fitzhenry from NUI Galway looked at the reuse of water within dairy processing plants. Additionally, the development of tertiary treatment technologies, including a novel pulsed UV system, which would help facilitate water reuse by ensuring it is free from any harmful micro-organisms, was presented.
If Ireland is to remain one of the largest exporters of dairy products in the world, strategic measures to reduce the industry’s environmental impacts need to be adopted now. This will be even more essential as the emission limits of plants, currently imposed by the EPA, are predicted to become increasingly more stringent over the coming years. Additionally, dairy companies will need to increase their influence on farm-based activities so as to reduce their environmental impacts, particularly with regard to greenhouse gas emissions.
For further details on the workshop and to follow the progress of the project, visit: www.dairywater.ie.