Sustainable dairy processing and the circular bio-economy

19 June 2020
Sustainable Story

Milk production in Ireland has grown in recent years, both as a result of the removal of milk production quotas in the EU in 2015, and the increasing demand for whey protein globally.

Whey is one of the primary proteins found in dairy products, and it has a range of health benefits for our bodies. The European dairy industry processes millions of tonnes of whey annually, to produce proteins, lactose, and powders for human and animal nutrition.

Bill Morrissey, Project Manager for the AgriChemWhey project at Glanbia Ireland, says: “Whey permeate (WP) and delactosed whey permeate (DLP) are low-value by-products of dairy processing and are a key challenge for the dairy industry. They lack effective, reliable disposal routes and this creates challenges since the expansion of milk production in the EU’s post-milk-quota era.”

This underscores the need for new technologies to manage the associated waste streams.

Circular Economy Graphic

AgriChemWhey project is developing the world’s first integrated bio-refinery, which will convert excess WP and DLP into cost-competitive, sustainable lactic acid. This can be used in manufacturing bio-based products for the growing global ‘green’ market. These products include compost, bio-based fertilizer, bio-degradable plastics for use in food packaging, and minerals for human nutrition.

The innovative technology, developed by Glanbia Ireland, will provide both the dairy industry and wider society with an opportunity for greater resource efficiency.

“This is an example of the circular bio-economy in action. It will mean less food waste, more products from the same starting material (milk), and the integration of food and non-food material production,” says Bill.

AgriChemWhey is a flagship, multi-million-euro bio-economy project based in the new Bio-Economy park at Lisheen in Co Tipperary.

The project received €22m in funding from the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme – the first dairy industry project to be awarded funding under the programme.

“With this funding, AgriChemWhey has the potential to position Ireland as a flagship for Europe’s growing bio-economy, contributing towards a more resource-efficient European dairy sector. There is enormous potential for replication in other areas across Europe, plus new opportunities for rural employment and development,” concludes Bill.


AgriChemWhey represents a significant step change in current whey processing techniques and the creation of new value chains. While it is focused on commercialising current and future whey “side streams” to improve resource efficiency, it has the capability to enhance the sustainability of businesses from three different sectors: Dairy, Chemicals and Polymers, and Horticulture.

It will underpin the growth of a more sustainable European dairy industry in the post-milk quota era through innovation and knowledge exchange, serving as a model for sustainable growth in dairy output in the EU and globally.

AgriChemWhey Funding partner logos

This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 744310.