NUI Galway to host Competence Centre for Bioenergy and Biorefinery

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Recovery boost as Tánaiste announces €56 million research investment for 180 companies in nine transformational Competence Centres
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment Mary Coughlan T.D. today (10 March, 2010), provided a welcome €56m boost to companies determined to succeed and grow in the Smart Economy. Conceived by her Department as part of the Government's Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation, the Competence Centres are being delivered jointly by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. Clusters of companies will work together to overcome common research challenges and drive opportunities for innovation, growth and jobs. The Competence Centre for Bioenergy & Biorefining will be based in NUI Galway, and co-hosted by UL and UCD. Bioenergy is energy that is latent in plants and the Competence Centre for Bioenergy & Biorefining researchers will focus on ways to convert that energy into useful forms like heat, energy and fuels for transport. According to John Travers of AER Ltd., one of the Irish SMEs involved in the Bioenergy and Biorefinery Centre: "The value of international markets for bioenergy and biorefining is €40 billion and that's growing at 12% each year". There is an opportunity for Ireland to leverage its natural resources as according to Travers, we have some of the highest yields of grass in the world and we have prolific growth of algae and both of these are sustainable raw materials for producing the next generation of bioenergy and biorefining products. Launching the Competence Centres the Tánaiste said: "Today we are marking a departure from the traditional approach to R&D in favour of a collaborative system where companies that might ordinarily be competitors agree to share knowledge, risk and the rewards of pooling their research resources. The Competence Centres initiative offers Ireland the opportunity to excel in nine key sectors. These industry-led centres will convert the research undertaken into new products and services, leading to growth in export markets and jobs in Ireland". There will be 180 SMEs and multinational companies involved in nine centres, five of which are now established. Those established cover Bioenergy & Biorefining, IT Innovation, Applied Nanotechnology, Composite Materials and Microelectronics. Four more – Manufacturing Productivity, Energy Efficiency, Financial Services and E-learning - are at different stages of completion. Each centre will be based in a University with support from partner Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) to deliver on the research needs of the companies. Enterprise Ireland has already ring-fenced €32 million in funding for the initial five centres and it anticipates investing a further €24 million over the next five years across the nine centres. Frank Ryan, CEO Enterprise Ireland said: "These centres are a radical step in enabling companies in Ireland to achieve the kind of transformational change that is required to re-boot our economy. We have chosen an industry-led Competence Centre model in partnership with IDA Ireland, as it is regarded as the most sophisticated R&D vehicle that currently exists internationally. The centres will dramatically increase the amount of intellectual property available to Irish companies that they might otherwise never get access to". Speaking about the benefits of participation to the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) companies that are involved, Barry O'Leary, CEO IDA Ireland said: "Companies like Intel, Xilinx, Pfizer and Microsoft are engaged in these Competence Centres so they can access the collective expertise of Ireland's top Universities and work with Irish SMEs in partnership. This sort of collaboration is charting the direction of Ireland's Smart Economy and is a hugely welcome development amongst the FDI community here that rely so heavily on the generation of new products and services from research". There are currently six Universities involved: NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, UCD, UL, TCD (CRANN) and UCC (Tyndall) and more HEIs are expected to join. One of the key benefits to the HEIs involved is that they get access to industry and the real problems that they are facing. This will assist the HEIs to align their research agendas with what industry is looking for. The Competence Centres are expected to generate real impacts within five years including:
  • Actively collaborating with a community of over 180 companies;
  • Transferring at least 80 pieces of commercially viable intellectual property in the form of technology licences;
  • Over 60 engineers and scientists directly employed in the centres working on industrially relevant research;
  • A further 60-80 industry personnel working on centre research projects, maintaining the centre's market focus and driving a culture of innovation;
  • Greater levels of R&D activity in Irish companies and overseas companies based in Ireland.
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