The Irish Sugar Beet Bio-Refinery Group has released a feasibility study into the establishment of a bio-refinery plant which it says would create 5,000 jobs and eliminate imports of up to 200m a year.
The integrated plant for the production of sugar and ethanol from sugar beet and grain would be located on a new site in the south east, at the centre of the sugar beet growing region.
It would cost €350m to build of which around €200m would be spent on Irish services, equipment and expertise.
According to the study, the plant could be built within two years of EU approval being granted for the revival of sugar production in Ireland.
Up to 500 jobs would be created during the construction phase and the plant would directly employ around 200. There would be some 5,000 additional jobs created on farms, in agricultural contracting, haulage and in the service industries.
Joint plant critical to financial viability
Chris Comerford, former chief executive of Irish Sugar and Greencore and a member of the expert group behind the study, said the establishment of a joint sugar/ethanol plant is critical to the financial viability of the project.
He said the proposed annual output of 154,000 tonnes of sugar is equivalent to the annual sugar demand in Ireland. “Developing an industry that would rely on exports would not make economic sense,” he said.
“Because Ireland surrendered its sugar quota in 2006, a new Irish sugar plant will require EU approval. The proposal to abolish the EU sugar quota regime in 2015 opens a real opportunity to re-establish sugar beet processing in Ireland. Planning for the new industry needs to begin immediately.”
The feasibility study has been presented to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, and Comerford said he is encouraged by the Minister’s positive response.
Professor Jimmy Burke of University College Dublin, another member of the study group, said the revival of sugar production and the development of a major ethanol facility would create additional sources of income for farmers. Sugar beet also enhances soil fertility and yields of other tillage crops.
“With improved technology and a dedicated group of skilled growers, yields well in excess of 60 tonnes/ha can be achieved. This makes Irish sugar beet production competitive,” he said.
“The ethanol production component of the project would make an important contribution to achieving the 10pc bio-fuel substitution target by 2020,” he added.