About GlasPort Bio
- Founders: Vincent O'Flaherty, Ruairi Friel, Killian O'Briain
- Founded in: 2018
- Employees: 13
- Money raised: 2.5 million in grants and 2 million from other sources
- Ultimate goal: Our vision for ourselves is an R&D company focused on making agriculture sustainable and minimize waste.
Farming has a paradoxical problem: the better we become at producing food, the more waste is also created. Manures and slurries created by animal agriculture must be stored to reduce methane and nitrogen pollution. In the Netherlands, it’s become such a problem that the government is literally buying out farms to reduce livestock numbers.
The Ireland based GlasPort Bio may have an answer to this problem. The start-up is creating chemical agents that treat manures and reduce methane production. They are also working on ways to extract valuable resources from animal manure. Where others see waste, Glasport sees raw material for making mineral rich fertilizers. We caught up with their chief scientific officer, Vincent O’Flaherty, to learn more.
What is Glasport Bio? Why is it needed?
“GlasPort Bio is a start-up that myself and colleagues started in 2018. The company was set up to commercialize two platform technologies: The first is for use in animal feeds to reduce methane loss and divert more nutrients and carbon – to the benefit of the animal. The second, to tackle stored manures and slurries – of which there are about a billion tonnes stored in the EU. You legally have to store them to protect the environment but they also represent a huge resource from a circular economy point of view. Our second platform looks to stabilize stored manures in such a way that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions and retain the nutrient value. These can be converted into organic fertilizers and you look to circularize the agricultural system.”
“Nitrogen is an example. About three percent of all the earth’s energy is used to fix nitrogen and create ammonia. This ammonia is then used to create fertilizer products. So, it comes with a BIG carbon footprint. Another is phosphorus which is one of the twenty critical materials of the EU. Even though we think of ourselves as food secure, we are really dependant on imported phosphorous for food security. What we do is look to retain those nutrients and prevent their loss.”
How much of a void can harvesting nutrients from manure fill?
“We’ve done a couple of different case studies. In the case of the pig farming, we reduced the requirement for fertilizer inputs for grain production by about 30 percent. That’s just for nitrogen. We also reduced the amount of methane that came out by over 80 percent. And the methane that we didn’t lose to the atmosphere can be recovered in our biogas plants. “
We have some…friction between farmers and environmentalists here in the Netherlands. How can this help?
“We need to get busy on greenhouse gas in such an urgent way. Finding mechanisms that really incentivize action – particularly in the agricultural centre – I think is very important.
For the Netherlands, as an intensive agricultural producer – what are you going to do with options to process manure? Currently, the options for the farmer are pretty limited. You can acidify the product but that’s very expensive and takes away a lot of the usability of the product. I’d like to think that there’s a big opportunity to work with farmers to address those emissions – and ideally by doing so, help address other sources of emissions like those imported minerals that I referred to.”
How did it come to be? Where is it going?
“My own background for 25 years was to actually produce more methane in biogas plants. It’s from that background that allows you to understand the microbiology of methane production where it is undesirable, figure out ways where we can control it and, ultimately, reduce it.
My cofounders and I have known each other for years. I am a microbiologist in this field, Killian O’Briain has a background of over 30 years in agriculture and animal health, and Ruairi Friel is an MBA with a biotech background and has worked with many start-ups. Over the course of hundreds of conversations, cups of coffee – and a good few beers along the way – we teased out these ways to actually appeal to farmers and make it an economic win-win.
When we were established, we were very much still in the lab. Now we are working on full scale commercial farms in both the pig and dairy sector. The first commercialization with the manure product will be later this year. Our second project that extracts minerals from manure stores will be out in two years.