How Dublin Can Become A Global CleanTech Hub


By way of premable to our forthcoming feature on Dublin’s CleanTech companies, we present an overview on Ireland’s CleanTech sector from Graham Clifford.

Had you mentioned the ‘Green Economy’ in Ireland a couple of decades ago, some eyebrows would have been raised and heads scratched.

But in recent years the CleanTech sector has exploded on our shores, and with potential for it to create 80,000 jobs and boost GDP by €3.9 billion here by 2020, it’s no wonder shrewd and environmentally conscious entrepreneurs are seizing these opportunities with both hands.

The EY CleanTech Ireland report of 2012 pointed out that with clear, government-backed focus, Ireland could become an international hub for the sector. The Green Way – a body set up as Dublin’s CleanTech cluster with the aim to stimulate economic growth and employment in the green economy – brought out its own CleanTech in Ireland 2014 report last year in which it pointed out how the country is starting to embrace the emerging sector. It told how Ireland was now ranked 5th of 40 nations in the 2014 Global CleanTech Innovation Index.

So what exactly is CleanTech and how can it impact the lives of ordinary Irish citizens?

The sector develops, produces and uses goods and services that help us become more resource-efficient. These can range from greener energy generation to more environmentally friendly transport options to new and efficient waste water treatments. There are around 650 companies operating in the CleanTech sector in Ireland today, giving employment to thousands. Energy production and distribution is the largest CleanTech sector in Ireland, followed closely by energy efficiency and management.

By the time our children run their own households, it’s believed the majority of the energy they use will be green. Indeed, CleanTech will reach into every facet of their lives – in many ways it already does. For example, a new generation see recycling as a normal task – the thought of throwing plastic and paper into general waste is nonsensical. And as processes improve we, as a nation, will become less wasteful and more conscious of what happens with our rubbish. Irish businesses can flourish as a result.

“Ireland is uniquely positioned to avail of the opportunities that global CleanTech markets present, with excellent natural resources in the form of renewable energy sources like wind, wave and tidal, as well as developed research infrastructure and a solid skills base.”

One such Irish company is OxyMem, based in Athlone. Founded in 2013, the company solves energy intensive wastewater treatment with what’s known as it’s Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor (MABR). Oxymem’s Managing Director Wayne Byrne explains, “Conventional wastewater treatment, known as the Activated Sludge process, consumes two to three percent of a nation’s electricity production. But we can achieve superior energy performance over Conventional Activated Sludge with lower sludge production, using less operator hours and by doing so make a fourfold saving on energy costs.” Last year the company opened its first membrane manufacturing facility and currently employs 42 people. OxyMem has raised over €1.7 million of equity to date.

A recent World Bank report estimated the opportunity for water-focused clean technologies at US $3.6 trillion (€3.2 trillion) in the developing world alone. And Wayne Byrne believes that continued focus on and investment in the CleanTech sector in Ireland can result in a major economic boost for the country. “CleanTech is certainly contributing significantly to Ireland’s economic recovery year on year,” he says. “I’m certain that there’s a very healthy innovation pipeline in Irish higher education and research institutions, so we have great potential for expanded growth in this category for at least the next decade.”

A United Nations report estimates that by 2050 some $36 trillion (or €32.7 trillion) will be invested in clean technologies worldwide, so it’s vital Ireland is at the forefront of this exciting and developing business sector. And government agencies such as Enterprise Ireland are doing their bit to assist new businesses in the sector who come to them with innovative CleanTech inventions or service options – especially those proposals which will transfer well to the international market.

Tom Kelly, divisional manager for CleanTech, Electronics and Lifesciences with Enterprise Ireland, explained the huge potential for Irish companies in this sector: “Ireland is uniquely positioned to avail of the opportunities that global CleanTech markets present,” he says, “with excellent natural resources in the form of renewable energy sources like wind, wave and tidal, as well as developed research infrastructure and a solid skills base.”

He added, “At present, CleanTech is among Ireland’s fastest growing sectors. We’re seeing that not only are there more entrepreneurs and small businesses starting up in this area, but that longer-standing companies are adapting their models and are now offering more energy-efficient and sustainable products. The challenges posted by climate change and a scarcity of resources will require solutions and, here at Enterprise Ireland, we’re trying to do everything we can to help Irish businesses to come up with those, develop them and sell them across the world.”

Those involved in promoting and supporting the entire CleanTech sector believe Ireland can rise to the challenge and innovate, develop and export goods and services to meet the demand of both the markets and the peoples of the world.

The challenge is huge – but the opportunities in the CleanTech sector are vast and, to date, Irish businesses have responded to the opportunity.

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