Plans to build a new briquetting plant capable of processing 300,000t of biomass a year have been unveiled.
As revealed in the Farming Independent last week, British fuel distribution firm CPL is to locate its €22m factory at the port of Foynes, in Co Limerick.
The announcement comes as a major boost to miscanthus growers, according to Paddy O'Toole of Quinns of Baltinglass.
Farmers have planted 2,800ac of the crop over the past six years, but have become increasingly desperate for a viable outlet for their crop, especially since the main promoter in the southwest, JHM, ended all its contracts with growers earlier this year. Some growers have resorted to ploughing in the crop.
"This plant will take up to 300,000t of biomass a year when it's fully operational," said Mr O'Toole.
"It is hoped that one third of the total will be coming from renewable sources such as miscanthus," he said.
Quinns are sending miscanthus in pellet, chip and bale form for testing in Britain in the hope that the new plant will incorporate the crop into its briquettes.
"I believe that if we can get this up and running, this plant could provide an outlet that would pay growers €80/t for the crop, collected from their yards and at a moisture content of 20pc," said Mr O'Toole. "This is the equivalent of €100/t for delivered crop, which would provide a good return on farmers' investments in the crop."
It is likely that much of the biomass to be incorporated into the briquettes will be cheap imported by-products, such as palm kernels from Africa. However, Mr O'Toole believes that there will still be a huge demand for domestic product.
"There will be unprecedented demand for biomass by 2020 with a target that 6pc of Europe's heat requirement comes from non-woodchip biomass. That's going to make products like miscanthus very much in demand," he said.
The plant is expected to be operational by 2015 and employ 142 people in manufacturing, sales and distribution when it is fully operational. Speaking at the launch of the plans, CPL's CEO, Tim Minett, said the impending ban of smoky coal was a major factor behind the decision.
"Ireland is the first country in Europe to move towards a ban on the sale of smoky coal. Not only has it been widely welcomed by health care and environmental groups, but it has also given us the impetus to take this decision," he said.
Mr Minett also suggested that further plans for expansion may be in the pipeline. "We envisage that in the medium term we may further expand production to serve the wider European market from Foynes."