A new €28m research centre focused on developing the bioeconomy in Ireland has been officially launched.

BEACON will examine how we can better use resources that are derived from living things more sustainably to produce valuable goods, including plastics, fuels, and energy.

The centre aims to develop new technologies, processes and ideas in a way that will sustain the use of our natural resources and grow the economy, particularly in rural areas.

"Given that our natural resources are predominantly rurally based, BEACON can help to create vibrant sustainable rural communities," said Prof Kevin O'Connor, Director of the BEACON Bioeconomy SFI Research Centre.

"BEACON will provide the knowledge, technologies, and highly educated graduates to support the realisation of Ireland's bioeconomy opportunity."

The centre will, for example, study how high volumes of residues that are produced by the agri-food and marine sectors during food production can be converted into other products.

The UCD-led centre's main funding is coming from Science Foundation Ireland, with a significant contribution also being made by ten industry partners.

Four other academic institutions are also involved in the venture.

There are many significant challenges and opportunities for it to consider in significant areas of the Irish and global bioeconomy, including dairy, horticulture, forestry, fisheries, marine biodiscovery, food waste and municipal solid biowaste. 

With Ireland facing the prospect of significant EU fines for breaching its climate change reduction targets, it is hoped that increased investment in the bioeconomy will help reduce carbon emissions here.

The launches, carried out by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, took place on the inaugural Bioeconomy Ireland Day.

The event happened in Tipperary at the National Bioeconomy Campus in Lisheen, and coincided with the launch of the Irish Bioeconomy Foundation, which hopes to get industry, the farming community, government and wider society thinking about and involved in the bioeconomy.

"The IBF provides an infrastructure to enable potential collaborators to interact in order to establish new value chains," said Dr Brian Kelly from the Irish Bioeconomy Foundation said.

"Our Enterprise Ireland funded pilot-scale processing facility in Lisheen provides the national ecosystem with an opportunity to accelerate ideas (from academics and businesses) to the market, helping to de-risk new technologies, attract further investment and build international links."

It is estimated that the bioeconomy could lead to the creation of up to 1 million jobs over the next twelve years across Europe, where it already accounts for 8% of the workforce.