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SDG 15 - Life on Land

More than 30 million jobs in the EU and many key economic sectors are dependent on a sustainable supply of Raw Materials, such as aluminium and zinc. However, the extractive operations to process and refine such raw materials generate approximately 300 million tonnes of waste per annum, representing one of the largest waste streams in the EU. This waste can be hazardous to the environment if it is not managed effectively. Research from University of Limerick is helping industry leaders to fulfil their environmental obligations while continuing to operate in a sustainable manner. The research findings are also contributing to international and national regulatory standards for the extractive industry. Dr Ronan Courtney of the Department of Biological Sciences and the Bernal Institute explains: “This research is developing ecologically engineered solutions for the effective management of extractive waste. These solutions fall into two main camps – rehabilitation strategies where sustainable vegetation covers are established over mine waste, and constructed wetlands systems where mine water residue is managed and treated. Uniquely, these solutions are being developed on-site rather than in a lab, and the results are there for all to see.” The ecologically engineered solutions devised by Dr Courtney are driven by industry and environmental needs. They are applicable to companies working with different raw materials and in different countries. Furthermore, the research is being used by regulatory bodies to manage ‘legacy waste,’ that is extractive waste left over from mines or quarries which have long since ceased operating. In many cases this waste is stored in tailing ponds which may be prone to a host of environmental issues such as acid mine drainage, soil contamination and flooding. The research findings have led to ecologically engineered solutions for managing extractive waste. These solutions are having a positive impact on problems arising from the past, fulfilling present-day industry needs, and protecting the environment into the future. Dr Courtney adds: “The solutions have been adopted as preferred best practice closure techniques by RUSAL Aughinish for their site in County Limerick. Disseminating the findings at international industry forums and continual engagement has led to new collaborations with other industry leaders including Vedanta, Boliden, and Rio Tinto. The research is cited in the current review of the European Commission’s Best Available Techniques Reference Document for the Management of Waste from Extractive Industries.”

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UL Green Campus operate an ongoing best practice woodland management programme. As part of its woodland management it manages coppice willow and other aggressive fast-growing species that can dominate and take over a woodland environment. UL offers the opportunity for trees such as oak to develop and mature. These works are essential to reduce dense vegetation, break up vegetation mats and open ground layer vegetation. This benefits tree regeneration and increases the variety of vegetation types and associated invertebrates and birds.

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Former education minister Mary O’Rourke and founding UL president Ed Walsh have been hailed for their roles in the University of Limerick’s establishment. A commemorative tree planting ceremony has taken place to mark the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the University of Limerick Act 1989.The ceremony was attended by UL President Dr Fitzgerald and Chancellor Mary Harney along with special guests Ed Walsh and Mary O’Rourke. It took place in the courtyard of the main building after a meeting of the governing authority, with President Emeritus Des Fitzgerald outlining that it was intended to “mark this milestone in the history of UL and celebrate those who played a part in the passage of this legislation and the development of the University”. “Today we are here to mark a very special milestone in the history of the University of Limerick, because it is 30 years almost to the day since the University of Limerick act was enacted – and some of the key players in securing that remarkable achievement are here with us today,” he said. Chancellor Mary Harney said it was “a great pleasure to be here. This is a fantastic University and I am very honoured to be its chancellor – 15,000 students, 100,000 graduates, 1,500 staff, the highest percentage of women professors of any university in Ireland at 32% and earlier today we acknowledged that eight schools in UL have received the Athena Swan award for their role in diversity and promoting women. These are all achievements that we can be very proud of. “What gives me great pleasure is the fact that in this place, we cultivate and development the minds of our young people, we stretch the boundaries of knowledge in both what we teach and the research we do. And we have been the Sunday Times University of the Year on more than one occasion, including the most recent year.

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Associate Professor JJ Leahy, at UL receives award for REFLOW. REFLOW is an interdisciplinary cross-sectoral European Training Network combining world-leading scientists and key stakeholders in dairy processing, fertilizer production and phosphorous recycling with early stage researchers to address important technical and socio-economic challenges associated with the recovery of phosphorous from dairy processing wastewater and its recycling into fertilizer products enabling sustainable expansion of the dairy industry in Europe. REFLOW research will (i) mitigate the environmental impact of dairy processing waste on soil and water, (ii) provide safe environmentally sustainable, cost effective closed loop solutions for crop nutrient management (iii) meet the demand for skilled professionals to support the technical, regulatory, and commercial development of the market for recycled phosphorous fertilizer products in accordance with the deliverables of the Circular Economy Package. REFLOW will achieve these goals by creating an innovative and entrepreneurial training environment for the next generation of scientists. 13 ESRs will be recruited in a network of 10 beneficiaries and 14 partner organisations who bring complementary expertise and experience of delivering technical solutions, socio-economic modelling, environmental analysis, policy frameworks, high level training and commercial entrepreneurship. Graduating fellows will be equipped with a unique range of relevant interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral skills for careers as independent industrial or academic researchers, entrepreneurs, regulators, or agri-environmental specialists. REFLOW will train the Fellows through an integrated and cohesive curriculum of network-wide partner training activities including industrial secondments and embedded commercially driven research projects. The outputs from REFLOW will influence land management practice, the rural bio-economy framework and EU policy goals while significantly progressing the state-of-the-art in Phosphorous recycling.

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