Leading Expert in Environmental Biotechnology Joins NUI Galway to Lead €5 Million Project in Developing Fuel from Waste

Piet Lens, Established Professor of New Energy Technologies, NUI Galway. Photo: Aengus McMahon
Nov 14 2017 Posted: 09:58 GMT

NUI Galway has announced the appointment of a leading expert in environmental biotechnology, Professor Piet Lens, Established Professor of New Energy Technologies at the University’s College of Science.

Professor Lens will spearhead a €5 million research project, through an investment under the Science Foundation Ireland Research Professorship Programme, to develop novel bioreactor concepts that will recover energy from waste and wastewater. The project will add new biofuels generated from waste products to Ireland’s energy mix, and in turn support the Government’s strategy for an energy self-sufficient Irish bioeconomy.

Biotechnology harnesses organisms from natural environments to provide foods and medicines and for tasks such as cleaning toxic waste or detecting harmful substances. New technologies have enabled modern biotechnology to become an important part of the ‘smart economy’ in areas such as healthcare, agriculture, the food industry and the environment.

Speaking about Professor Lens’ appointment, Professor Lokesh Joshi, Vice-President for Research at NUI Galway, said: “We are delighted to welcome Professor Lens as he joins our vibrant research community here in Galway. Professor Lens is recognised as a world-leader in the area of environmental engineering and his appointment is an invaluable addition to the ongoing energy research at NUI Galway. His research will develop new technologies to generate energy which will positively impact sustainable food production, environmental protection and climate change.’

There is much media debate about methane emissions from Ireland’s agricultural industry. Cutting-edge technologies can take waste products and use them to produce fuel and other valuable products, while reducing pathogen levels and greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable, biomethane is an important energy source in countries like France, Germany and the UK, while in Ireland preparations are at an advanced stage for State-support incentives for energy production in this way.

Within the NUI Galway Ryan Institute, Professor Lens’ programme of work will focus on four components of biotechnology; Research into new bacteria from marine and deep sea sediments for potential energy generation; Demonstrating how bioenergy production processes work using novel analytical techniques and innovative mathematical models; Developing new bioreactor configurations and process trains to make the energy production processes work; Application at pilot and full-scale industrial sites to translate the research findings into marketable bioenergy production technologies, including patenting and licencing. This work is very much aligned with the environmental dimension of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which focus on the sustainable management of natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change.

Commenting on his appointment, Professor Piet Lens, said: “Receipt of such a significant grant provides an important opportunity to create an enormous impact in the field of bioenergy production. I’m extremely delighted to be awarded this Science Foundation Ireland Research Professorship at NUI Galway, which has a long standing reputation as a world-class research hub in the field of anaerobic digestion and environmental microbiology. I’m committed to contributing to further developments in this area and to supporting a strong national and international network of academic and industrial partners linked to this university.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “It is with great pleasure that I announce the appointment of Professor Piet Lens to NUI Galway through the SFI Research Professorship Programme. Professor Lens is a world-leading researcher dedicated to developing novel bioprocesses for the recovery of resources such as energy, metals and nutrients from waste. His work will contribute to the greening of our economy and Ireland’s energy sector, and will support the implementation of a circular economy in Ireland through the invention and application of new technologies. His appointment epitomises Science Foundation Ireland’s commitment to fund world-class research with impact in the energy and environment sectors.”

Professor Lens will collaborate nationally with research teams in NUI Galway, the MaREI and BEACON Science Foundation Ireland Research Centres, and the Energy and Dairy Processing Technology Centres.

Professor Lens will lead a Seminar entitled ‘Trends in Environmental Biotechnology’ on Thursday 23 November at NUI Galway.

To hear Professor Lens speak about his project, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2eVd--_7y4


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