A.N.S.W.E.R. (Agricultural Need for Sustainable Willow Effluent Recycling)

A.N.S.W.E.R. (Agricultural Need for Sustainable Willow Effluent Recycling)
May, 2011
The official launch of the ANSWER project took place in Belfast City Hall on Friday 13th May. The ANSWER project is part funded by the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the INTERREG IVA Cross-border Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).

Dr Alistair McCracken from the lead partner, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) explained that the objective of the project was “To establish sites (experimental, demonstration and pilot) irrigated with effluents or leachates from a range of sources.” Using Short Rotation Coppice (SWC) Willow and built on many years of research by AFBI municipal sewage effluent or land-fill leachate would be
applied to SWC willow. He said that, "ANSWER was about developing low carbon and environmentally sustainable solutions for dealing with organic waste, while simultaneously creating renewable bioenergy."

Mr. John McMillen, the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency spoke enthusiastically about the potential of using SWC willow as a means of managing wastewater. He indicated that the benefits are numerous, including a reduction in the carbon footprint required to safely treat and dispose of effluent; reduction in the potential for polluting impacts on waterways by removing the need for mechanical treatment systems; and the generation of useful by-product form the process, namely wood chip which is a sustainable renewable energy fuel. He concluded by saying, "It is therefore important that the use of this type of sustainable technology is actively encouraged in today’s environmentally aware and financially constrained climate and NIEA is pleased to support the next step of this process."

Dr. Seamus Kennedy, the Chief Executive of AFBI talked about the long track record of research by AFBI on SWC willow dating back to the 1970s. The strategic planting of willow can make a significant contribution to the financial and carbon economies of farms by acting as an energy crop for heat and power production, remediating dirty water, protecting stream from nutrient run-off, increasing biodiversity and even, when planted along farm boundaries improving animal disease bio security. Dr Kennedy said that, "the development and implementation of any strategy or policy will only be successful if underpinned by effective research to fill knowledge gaps - hence the need for this project to determine the optimum parameters for the application of willows to the bioremediation of effluents."

Welcoming the EU funded project Pat Colgan, Chief Executive for the Special EU Programmes Body, said: "This is a highly significant environmental project that will create a number of long-term benefits in the protection of streams and waterways within Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland. In finding an innovative solution to deal with organic waste it will also generate a new renewable energy source. The project is one of a number of environmentally focused initiatives, funded under the EU’s INTERREG IVA Programme, that are addressing issues of serious ecological importance on a cross-border basis."

ANSWER has eight cross-border partners. AFBI is the lead partner who will supervise, in conjunction with Queen’s University of Belfast, three post-graduate studentships. Teagasc will conduct research on the impacts of applying effluent to willow. IT Sligo will supervise a Masters student working on the impacts on biodiversity of irrigating effluent to willow. South West College (Cookstown Campus) will be applying GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technologies to map opportunities for effluent irrigation. NIWater will have two major sites while Monaghan and Donegal County Councils will have one site each in which significant areas of willow will be irrigated with municipal effluent. Cookstown District Council will be investigating the use of SWC willow for the disposal of landfill leachate.