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Minister opens new environment and renewable energy centre

14 January, 2009

The recently developed Environment and Renewable Energy Centre at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Hillsborough, was officially opened by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA, today.

Before an invited audience representing a wide range in interests from across agriculture, the local community, government, business and the universities, the Minister welcomed the development of this new research centre which has already initiated a wide ranging renewable energy research programme related to agriculture and forestry.

The Minister said: "The research programme has the initial focus of developing the opportunities for agriculture and forestry to generate renewable energy from indigenous resources such as animal manures, biomass crops and forest brash.

"Technologies which could improve the viability of biomass crops such as the use of farm dirty water to irrigate short rotation coppice (SRC) willows, improved planting systems for miscanthus (elephant grass), and more efficient biomass crop drying systems, are being investigated at Hillsborough. Continued funding has now been awarded from the Innovation Fund to take forward this research programme over the next three years, and international research links have been established with research centres in Ireland, the USA and Europe."

Initial funding was used for the construction of a farm-scale anaerobic digester now generating electricity and heat for the site from a combined heat and power unit. A 320kW biomass heating system has also been installed and a research programme initiated, with the support of DARD, into a range of biomass resources including short rotation coppice willows, forestry residues and miscanthus.

Environmentally friendly construction methods have been used in the building of the main Renewable Energy Centre building with hemp/lime wall construction in the visitor centre and timber cladding sourced from Hillsborough Forest. AFBI is working with CAFRE to ensure there is effective technology transfer of its findings and the visitor centre facilities at AFBI Hillsborough will enable visiting groups to learn in more detail of the research that is taking place.

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