Ireland has enjoyed great success to date in renewable energy deployment and remains a world leader in integrating ever greater proportions of renewables into the system. Significant R&D is underway, both in the public and private sector, to further increase this penetration and optimise ways to utilise surplus energy, such as green hydrogen or sustainable aviation fuel production.

There are many examples of how R&D activity supports the transition to a low-carbon economy. In the energy sector for example there is very interesting R&D activity underway at the Whitegate Refinery in Cork, with GNI, UCC, ESB and Irving Oil testing and looking at various fuel solutions.

Meanwhile, in the highly active life sciences sector, many medical device companies are re-developing their processes to produce less waste. Interestingly these projects are not just about increasing yield, but also improving and/or increasing sustainability.

In terms of recycling existing energy opportunities, several companies in the field of mechanical and electrical engineering are examining ways to reuse waste products from large-scale industry – for example, one Irish company is researching methods of heating homes by recycling the hot water waste product generated from cooling data centres.

In the agriculture sector, several companies are working on using hydroponic farming – growing plants without soil – to produce nutritionally dense food. Hydroponic farming has the potential to be a much more energy-efficient way of producing food and tackles issues of species conservation, land usage, soil pollution and deforestation.

R&D and Ireland’s climate targets

Agricultural emissions remain one of Ireland’s significant climate challenges, with current, proven technologies only able to achieve c.20% emissions reductions. Unlike other sectors, which have identifiable net zero pathways, agriculture is significantly reliant on innovation and R&D to achieve a credible net zero journey, meaning it remains a high priority area for R&D investment.

Furthermore, Ireland has highly ambitious home retrofit targets, with the aim of bringing 500,000 homes up to a B2 standard or higher by 2030. Progress to date suggests this target will be difficult to achieve with current labour- and capital-intensive retrofit models. Further Irish innovation and R&D is required, perhaps looking to methods from the Netherlands, such as ‘Energiesprong’ which achieves average energy reductions of 78% in much less time.

Opportunities for future activity


The proliferation of deep technology in the agriculture sector could have a huge positive impact on the reduction of greenhouse gasses. Already we have seen learning algorithms being applied to increase the efficiency of farming through yield prediction, disease detection, livestock welfare and water management to name but a few examples. In Ireland, there are several companies already working on bringing concepts like computer vision, edge computing and IoT into both arable and livestock farming.

Quantum computing

Though a novel field, many of the thought leaders in quantum computing believe that the unique challenges of climate change could be addressed using qubit-based systems. Specifically, the creation of new complex chemicals, drugs and enzymes that would allow us to greatly reduce industrial carbon output.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai believes that quantum computing could be used to come up with a replacement for the Haber Process (responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions) within the next ten years.

Gene editing and selective breeding

As we face a radically changing climate, food shortages will become one of society's largest problems. Gene editing and selective breeding can offer several potential benefits including increased abiotic stress tolerance, improved disease tolerance, enhanced nutritional quality and greater yield.

While gene editing is currently prohibited by the EU, a recent public consultation launched by the EU Commission could see this stance change. This would open Europe to a new and rapidly expanding field of R&D.

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The pace of change is challenging leaders like never before. If you are a business seeking advice on conducting green R&D activity, please contact our team below. We'd be delighted to hear from you.

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