BioWILL project to look at medicinal, packaging, fertiliser and energy potential of willow as a crop
BioWILL is a Interreg NWE funded project focusing on Integrated "Zero Waste" Biorefinery utilising all fractions of Willow feedstock for the production of high to medium based Bio-Chemicals/Materials, Renewable Energy in the form of Bio Methane production and Natural Fertilisers.
BioWILL consists of 10 project partners in four countries across Northwest Europe (Belgium, France, Ireland and United Kingdom). Gas Networks Ireland is a collaborating and co-funding partner on the project which is being led by University of Limerick.
Gas Networks Ireland’s BioWILL project lead, Ian Kilgallon, said willow, which has traditionally been considered only to have a biomass energy application, can in fact support higher value bio-economy/circular-economy applications that can improve the proposition and create opportunities for local communities, businesses and farmers.
"The potential of willow as an energy crop is well understood. Many Irish farmers have grown willow before. The challenge has been to make it economically viable. By demonstrating that willow biomass has multiple optimum, sustainable, and higher value uses across an extended circular economy lifecycle, we could dramatically improve the viability of willow as a crop, making it more attractive for farmers to grow and reducing bioenergy costs," Mr. Kilgallon said.
The research project will primarily look at willow as a potential medicine as willow bark is one of the few plant materials to contain substances called salicins that have pain-killing and anti-inflammatory properties and are as effective as synthetic equivalents, with fewer undesirable side effects.
Bark-free willow pulp can also be converted into biodegradable packaging material to replace plastics.
The Gas Networks Ireland element of the project will determine if the willow-bark pulp waste residue from the process can be used to produce renewable gas through anaerobic digestion in the same way as food and agricultural waste is already being processed in Kildare.
As is the case with there, the renewable gas would be injected into the national gas network and used in the same way as natural gas today through the existing €2.6bn, 14,000km state-owned infrastructure.
"Gas Networks Ireland is committed to delivering a zero-carbon gas network and facilitating carbon reductions across electricity generation, heat, transport, industry and agriculture. Increasing the volume of biomethane entering the network is the first step towards achieving this," Mr. Kilgallon said.
The final value chain product from the willow is a natural organic fertiliser by-product from the anaerobic digestion process, which can improve soil quality and carbon capture ability, replacing chemical fertilisers and reducing on-farm emissions. Moving to organic fertilizer is a key objective of European agricultural policy.
The project is part-funded by Gas Networks Ireland’s Gas Innovation Fund, which supports research and development of technologies that will help deliver a zero-carbon gas network. Grants are awarded four times per year, with the closing date for the next round ending in December 2020.
"BioWILL is a great example of the kind of project that can be enabled through the Gas Innovation Fund. By helping to fund collaborative research, we harness experience from across Europe to create the sustainable and circular economy innovations which will deliver a carbon neutral energy system," Mr. Kilgallon said.
"The Gas Innovation Fund has already helped to fund innovative projects in Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), biomethane and Hydrogen, and it will have an important continuing role in Ireland’s decarbonisation transition."
For more information on the BioWill Project, please visit www.nweurope.eu/projects/project-search/biowill/. For information on the Gas Innovation fund, please visit www.gasnetworks.ie/business/renewable-gas/innovation-fund/.