An innovative project is underway to try to use wastewater to grow animal feed.
The ‘Brainwaves’ project, which is being led by University College Cork, will use duckweed to treat wastewater, typically slurry, from both beef and dairy farms.
Duckweed has a natural ability to thrive in and purify polluted water and is amongst the fastest-growing plants.
It is also edible and considered a supply of animal feed which is high in protein, making it a promising feed-stock to replace costly soybean.
As part of the project, Brainwaves will develop native common duckweed (Lemna minor) as a novel crop for Irish and Welsh farms, by advancing technology to grow this plant on dilute slurry.
It will develop a so-called "circular economic approach" to manage the thin fraction of slurry, developing technology to remediate this wastewater, to generate an economically valuable feed, to recycle plant nutrients, and in doing so try to enhance the competitiveness of the beef and dairy industry in Ireland and Wales.
The project will refine the method involved and focus on commercial applications.
Brainwaves is being led by Prof Marcel Jansen of UCC’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Environmental Research Institute, and has just received € 1.4 million in funding under the Ireland Wales 2014-2020 European Territorial Co-operation (ETC) programme.
“The availability of copious amounts of cheap, chemical fertilisers can’t be taken for granted any longer, and novel techniques are required to re-use plant nutrients and enhance the environmental sustainability of modern agriculture across the board. In Europe as a whole we have duckweed as a neglected source of high quality protein, and excellent potential as a feed additive," said Prof Jansen.
He added: "Brainwaves is looking at diluted farmyard slurry, enormous amounts of which need to be stored.
“There are enormous volumes of this across Ireland. Farmers must store it, so what we want to come up with are ways of using thin fraction slurry to generate value.”
Over the course of the project, farmers will be invited to view the full scale demonstration model, and will be provided with materials and manuals to replicate on their own farms, directly contributing to both the sustainability and economic viability of the beef and dairy industry.