Peat briquettes have kept Irish homes and businesses warm since the 1940s, but now the industry must come to terms with climate change, and the end of an era.
Founded in the cold, hard years following World War II, the Bord na Mona (Irish for 'The Peat Board') peat company has profited greatly off of Ireland’s once-abundant indigenous fuel source.
Peat is any organic material, usually sod, that has been saturated with water and an oil-like matter before being chopped into burnable blocks. Peat has a high carbon content and can burn under low moisture conditions.
Bord na Mona once harvested peat on an industrial scale, employing 12,000 in the barren Irish midlands, according to GreenTech Media, but now the company's dependence on a dwindling resource has taken its toll. It now employs only 2,000. Said Gerry O’Hagan, Bord na Mona’s Marketing Director:
“There was a realization that the future of this organization was not really sustainable on peat only.”
In addition, a new generation of leaders realized that Bord Na Mona had to confront climate change, which led them to their new motto: “A new contract with nature.” What it meant, O’Hagan went on, “is that we’re no longer going to be a peat company"
Although peat is fairly cheap to procure, it's environmental costs are much higher. Peat bogs are home to many rare organisms that exists no where else in the world, and harvesting this material destroys precious wildlife habitat. It can take generations for a peat bog to form, and large-scale commercial removal of the peat releases large amount of sequestered carbon and methane into the atmosphere.
And that's all before it reaches the end consumer.
According to the International Mire Conservation Group, because peat has a lower calorific value than coal, oil or gas, burning it produces more CO2 per unit of generated energy than most other fossil fuels. Meaning that communities that restrict consumers to either peat or smokeless coal might be doing themselves a disservice.
Biomass to the Rescue?
To avoid becoming bogged down in a dying industry (pun intended), Bord na Mona is branching out into other energy markets, namely biomass.
The company purchased Edenderry Power Ltd., a peat-fired power plant, and began experimenting with combinations of peat and various biomass sources. The result was a unique combincation of misacanthus, canary grass and willow.
Biomass briquettes made with this formula now use 15 percent renewable materials and the company expects that to be 30 percent within three years.
Because it is estimated that there is only 25 years of peat left in Ireland, incorporating biomass will only temporarily delay the inevitable for Bord na Mona. That's why they've also developed Ireland's first three-megawatt wind project with plans to eventually expand it into the biggest on-land wind project in Europe.
The company's decisions to diversify into other, more renewable forms of energy follows a quiet-yet-global trend. Many iconic energy and manufacturing companies are dabbling in solar and wind, as well as other alternative fuels in an effort to prepare for the end of fossil fuels.
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