UCD project aiming to make dairy farms climate neutral awarded €2m Future Innovator Prize

Posted 21 June, 2021

A UCD farming project aiming to achieve net-zero emissions has received €2m in SFI funding to help it deliver climate-neutral dairy farming by 2027.

Farm Zero C is a project lead by Professor Kevin O’Connor and Dr Fionnuala Murphy that is using Shinagh Farm in County Cork to studied how renewable energy, livestock feed, and planting different types of grasses and clovers can boost biodiversity and soil health, while also reducing how much methane gas animals produce.

The project involves a range of climate mitigation strategies aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce operational costs for farmers.

“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 Professor O’Connor, Director of the SFI BiOrbic Research Centre at University College Dublin.

“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. We have brought the very best national and international partners together to address the challenge.”

Working with the dairy producer Carberry Group, and as part of Science Foundation Ireland's Zero Emissions Challenge, Farm Zero C will address emissions from animals, slurries and fertilisers using “integrated renewable energy and bio-refining” of agricultural waste streams.

Each of the strategies are being tested and modelled to determine how dairy farms can achieve net-zero emissions, with plans to extend them to a further 5,000 farms within five years through a mobile app.

“Sustainability is one of our core business priorities at Carbery and, as a co-op, has always been intrinsic to how we operate,” said CEO Carbery Group, Jason Hawkins.

“We work in partnership with our community to solve problems, and our relationship with BiOrbic is a good example of business and academia working together with farmers to create a sustainable future for dairy farming.

“With Farm Zero C, our emphasis is on the practical – the solutions we find have to be implementable on the typical Irish family farm. With this project, our partners and the support from Science Foundation Ireland, we are confident that we can achieve this aim.”

The UCD farming project was awarded the €2m in funding as part of Science Foundation Ireland's Future Innovator Prize, under its under the Zero Emissions Challenge.

“Innovative and disruptive ideas like the Farm Zero C project will become increasingly important as we deliver the Government’s ambitious Climate Action Plan and significantly reduce our carbon emissions,” said Simon Harris TD, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

“My Department’s support for projects like this one, that have real world impacts, really gives me not only pride, but confidence, as we strive to reduce our carbon emissions by 50% over the next decade.”

Minister of State with special responsibility for Agri-Food Research and Development, the Bioeconomy, Farm Safety and New Market Development Martin Heydon TD added: “This is the Irish bioeconomy in action safeguarding farmers’ livelihoods whilst protecting our climate and environment.”

Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact said: “Winning this challenge, and the associated €2 million in funding, is testament to the world- class research taking place at UCD.

“I wish the Farm Zero C team every success as they now focus on their goal of demonstrating Shinagh Farm in West Cork as a carbon neutral dairy farm. Achieving this goal, with its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, will have considerable influence on the future of agriculture, and dairy farming in particular, not only in Ireland but globally.”

As part of the SFI Zero Emissions Challenge, a special prize of €500,000 was awarded to Dr Tony KeeneUCD School of Chemistry, and his team at LiCoRICE in recognition of the potential impact of their project to bring lithium cobalt batteries into the circular economy to decarbonise road transport.

"We hope to take this project from a chance discovery through to being a leading technology in recycling the huge number of lithium ion batteries predicted to come about from electric vehicles and provide a means for Ireland to move to fully green transport as part of the circular economy,” he said.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations (with materials from Micéal Whelan, UCD Research and Innovation)