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A three day conference at the University of Ulster is focussing on how rural businesses can exploit cheaper alternative energy sources and wean themselves off fossil fuels.  

Academics and researchers from the Faroe Islands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, and Greenland were gathering at the University today to discuss innovative alternative energy solutions.
Dr Norry McBride from the Ulster Business School at Coleraine explained: “We will be comparing and discussing each other’s renewable energy projects in detail in order to determine the most cost effective approach allied to the different geographical locations.” 

The University is involved with a bio-mass facility based on a willow tree plantation in Limavady that powers a whole farm and an additional business on the site. Delegates will visit the site. 

Dr McBride continued: “During the three-day conference we will evaluate the research objectives and gain the opportunity to benchmark each of the current research projects and draw upon the comparative study process.” 

This conference is part of a European-wide project investigating the challenges facing rural areas and their dependency on fossil fuels.

Dr McBride, alongside his colleagues Derek Bond and Dr Elaine Ramsey, will be working with small to medium-sized businesses in rural areas across Northern Ireland over the next three years to help them develop innovative renewable energy solutions which are available locally.

"The devastating effect that global warming is having on our environment means that all European countries will have to reduce their dependency on imported fuel and make greater commitments to the use of renewable energy sources that generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions,” explained Dr McBride.

“Like many other European regions, rural communities in Northern Ireland are currently facing significant challenges as a result of their dependence on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

"Through the ‘Micro Energy’ and ‘Smallest’ research projects we will investigate and evaluate the opportunities that will enable rural businesses to generate renewable energy using waste products on a scale that is viable and economically feasible.

"This is an initiative which will not only reduce costs in this difficult financial climate but which will also benefit the environment and go some way to tackling the detrimental effects of global warming.”

The team of Ulster business experts has already begun work with firms in the north-west. They are exploring how an established food processing company can exploit the installation of an anaerobic digestive system to help power the whole plant.  This conference provides an opportunity to share findings of their research with partners working in universities across northern Europe. 

“When the project is completed in a few years time we will present a report to the European Union Secretariat,” added Dr McBride. The project is funded by the European Union under the auspices of the Northern Periphery Programme.