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Ireland helping to lay the foundations ofthe green economy

Sunday Tribune, 8 November 2009

Dr Micheal Lehane of EPA Ireland is a keynote speaker at a major OECD Global Forum in Paris.

The green economy represents the world's most likely avenue out of the current recession, while at the same time providing the Earth with more environmentally friendly technologies and practices at a time when it most needs them. Like its experiences with the software revolution in the 19905, Ireland has found itself at the vanguard of this latest economic surge. But unlike the IT boom, where Ireland profited from the importation of international expertise, the Irish version ofthe green economy is largely homegrown.

One of the driving forces behind Irish innovation in the green tech sector has been the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It has been extremely successful in helping to foster a domestic market for green technologies, and its efforts are now being recognised on the international stage - as recently as this week, EPA programme manager for Environmental Research and Assessment Micheal Lehane was invited to speak at the prestigious OECD Global Forum on Eco- Innovation in Paris.

"The EPA was invited to speak at the OECD's Global Forum following the publication ofthe report Innovation for a Green Economy - Environment and Technology: A win-win story, in June of this year" said Dr Lehane. "It was a unique opportunity to share the stage with global experts in the field and put Ireland on the map as a serious player in environmental research and innovation. The development of a smart and resilient green economy can make a significant contribution to economic recovery and growth by creating employment and export opportunities in green enterprises".

As part of its investment into green innovation in Ireland, the EPA has pioneered what it calls the STRIVE (Science, Technology Research and Innovation for the Environment) programme, which aims to support the development of innovative solutions that deliver environmental and economic savings.

Since 2005, EPA has funded some 190 research projects through STRrVE, and this represents an overall investment of around €30m.

There are two main strands to the programme - support for researchers and innovators, both in industry and academia, who are conducting high level research into new environmental technologies; and the "Cleaner Greener Production Programme" (CGPP), which is concerned with helping existing businesses to carry out their business in a more environmentally friendly manner.

"At the OECD forum we were able to outline some of the successes that Ireland has had to date," he said. "STRIVE has helped to put some practical and applicable outcomes on the table, showing that the EPA can deliver tangible results within a potentially enormous global market - one which has been estimated to grow to $2.3 trillion by 2020."

Some ofthe STRIVE-supported projects describedby Dr Lehane included a Biocatalysis project at UCD which is concerned with the upcycling of postconsumer plastic waste to a biodegradable plastic, as well as a project at the Tyndall Institute in Cork which looked at the treatment of waste water using nanotechnology.

Of course, while the benefits to the environment are central to any research carried out under STRIVE, there are also strong economic reasons for the EPA's major investment into Irish environmental research. For example, a survey of 18 largescale projects funded by the EPAin 2005-2006 found that the research investment had led the filing of five patents with seven additional patents in preparation; nine non-disclosure agreements; one licence agreement; and one new spin-off company.

But EPA innovation is not simply about leading edge R&D in the academic sector. For example, Dr Lehane also pointed to a project under the CGPP whereby the EPA worked with the hospitality sector on the "Greening Irish Hotels" project, which was concerned with reducing waste, increasing energy efficiency and conserving water in Irish hotels. Thanks to the project (which has been expanded into the Green Hospitality Awards), hotels in this country are now saving some €3m per annum simply by employing better environmental practices.

"We are enhancing Ireland's knowledge base and building our reputation as a destination for research and innovation," he said. "But we have to show value for money for our research, and surveys of our projects show that our return on investment compares very favourably to similar investments elsewhere in the EU and in the USA."






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