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Ireland is one of Europe’s largest producers of cow’s milk with an annual production of over 5 billion litres. Currently, dairy ingredients and products comprise almost 30% of the Irish food and drink export market and, in 2013, dairy ingredients and products surpassed €3 billion for the first time.  The abolishment of milk quotas in 2015 is expected to result in a 50% increase in milk production in Ireland by 2020. This increase in the volume of milk being processed, along with stringent measures on emissions from the industry and growing commercial drive for operational efficiencies, is driving the need for innovative technological and operational solutions within the dairy processing industry.

In this context, DairyWater – a new multi-stakeholder research project – is striving to make the Irish dairy processing industry more efficient and environmentally sustainable by reducing carbon footprints, energy and water use. This will, in turn, lead to greater potential for exports, increased international competitiveness for Irish products, and stimulate job creation.

DairyWater is led by Prof. Xinmin Zhan in Civil Engineering, College of Engineering and Informatics and the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway. The project also involves leading research groups at UCC, Trinity College Dublin, Athlone IT and Teagasc. The primary goal of the study is to efficiently and effectively treat wastewater effluent from dairy processing plants using a range of innovative biological, nano-meterial based and disinfection technologies. In parallel, the efficient use of water (and resulting energy costs) within the plants is also being explored.

Group Photo

DairyWater project research team, December 2014

We propose to examine NUIG-developed intermittently aerated sequencing batch reactor (IASBR) technology and TCD-developed nano-materials for removing biochemical oxygen demand, nitrogen and phosphorus from the dairy effluent to reach the discharge standard. Water reuse and rainwater harvesting technologies, integrated with pulsed UV systems developed by Athlone IT and NUIG, will be investigated to enable water use reduction. Life cycle analysis of water use and dairy waste management will be conducted and will assess the advantage of using the proposed technologies. A cost-benefit analysis will also be undertaken. Results from this project will be disseminated enabling adoption by stakeholders. This project will be alignment with national and international policies by turning wastes into resources.

The project team are working closely with leading industry stakeholders. A project advisory board includes leading members of the dairy processing industry (Abbott Ireland, Arrabawn Dairies, Aurivo, Carbery, Dairygold, Glanbia, Kerry Group and Lakeland Dairies), and government funded bodies (Enterprise Ireland, the EPA and Teagasc). The industry partners will provide data and facilitate pilot scale activities during the project; thus enabling potential commercial benefits of this research to be realised.

The four-year project has received €1 million funding from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.