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Ministers Harris and Smyth welcome opening of €1.9 million biomass heat centre fuelling ATU building with renewable energy

Ministers Harris and Smyth welcome opening of €1.9 million biomass heat centre fuelling ATU building with renewable energy

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD and Minister of State at the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications Ossian Smyth TD have today congratulated Atlantic Technological University (ATU) on its new innovative biomass heat centre following Government funding of €1.9 million.

Biomass fuel is a renewable energy that comes from organic feedstocks, including wood from forestry bi-products, poultry litter from chicken farms and straw from tillage.

ATU’s Letterkenny campus was awarded funding from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications to build the heat centre which is now providing renewable energy to 80 per cent of the main building at its Business Incubation Centre (BIC).

Speaking in Letterkenny today, Minister Harris said:

“We have set ambitious targets for improving energy efficiency across our college and university campuses.

“ATU has proven with its application for this biomass heat centre that there is a culture of innovation here, and I’m delighted to see their plans have now come to fruition with the delivery of this forward-thinking project.

“The university is known for engaging in pioneering projects that deliver tangible results and this project is a milestone in the journey we must all make to reduce our energy use.

“Projects like this one will go a long way towards driving down our greenhouse gas emissions so we can contribute to our national climate objective of being a competitive, low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050.”

The BIC building biomass heating centre at ATU Donegal was successful under round two of funding of the Energy Efficiency Decarbonisation Pathfinder Programme for Higher Education.

The programme is administered through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and Higher Education Authority (HEA).

Minister of State Ossian Smyth said:

“SEAI and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science have been doing fantastic work under Pathfinder. I’m delighted to see another university benefitting.

“The programme, which has been running since 2017, means far more than reducing energy bills and carbon emissions. I’d highly recommend watching this excellent video in which other third level and higher educational institutions outline what it has meant for them.”

Dr Orla Flynn, President of ATU, thanked Minister Simon Harris TD for his support in making universities greener.

Dr Flynn said:

"Today marks a milestone in our journey towards a more sustainable future. The Biomass Centre is a testament to ATU's dedication to environmental stewardship and innovation in energy efficiency."

Ciarán McCaffrey, Head of Capital Programmes in the HEA added:

“An aim of our Energy Efficiency and Decarbonisation Pathfinder Programme is to support the Higher Education sector in achieving their climate action targets while also expanding our body of knowledge in relation to renewable technologies, energy efficiency improvements and carbon reduction measures.

“This programme is also focused on demonstrating different retrofit pathways, building scale and capability within the sector. We therefore welcome the completion of ATU’s biomass heat centre which was funded via the HEA, and which will see tangible benefits for ATU and the wider sector, both through the reduction of carbon emissions but also through the data collected from this project.”


The purpose of the Energy Efficiency Decarbonisation Pathfinder Programme for Higher Education is to establish a pathway for a large-scale building energy retrofit programme to meet the targets set out in Ireland’s ambitious Climate Action Plan.

The Climate Action Plan (CAP) is an all of Government strategy which sets ambitious targets of 50% improved energy efficiency to be achieved by public sector bodies by end 2030. In addition, it envisages the public sector leading by example on climate action to reach the target of reducing Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030 and becoming climate neutral no later than 2050.

Three rounds of an Energy Efficiency and Decarbonisation Programme have been rolled out since 2020 in the Higher Education Sector. The programme is intended to test and demonstrate approaches, build scale, and inform stakeholders. Data is being collected on the impact these projects have had on emissions, which will inform future programme calls.

BIC Medium Retrofit & Biomass

This project included a medium retrofit of the former Business Incubation Centre (BIC) building which forms part of the Main Building, and a biomass heat centre which will provide renewable heat to 80% of the Main Building including the BIC building (total area 17,032m2). The single-storey 455m2 BIC building constructed in 1988 accommodates a fire technology laboratory and post-graduate research centre. The Biomass Heat Centre accommodates a biomass boiler, fuel store and associated plant. It is linked to the existing main boiler house via district heating pipework.

Exchequer funding of € 1,962,487 has been provided under EEDPP 2021 for the BIC Biomass and Medium Fabric Upgrade.

The new Biomass system is estimated to have the capacity to meet the base heat load of 80% of the main education building with estimated savings of between 160 and 258 tonnes per annum of Carbon Dioxide.


The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s (SEAI) Public Sector Pathfinder programme has been the driving force in recent years behind capital retrofit projects in public buildings. The programme is operated on the basis of agreements between the SEAI and individual public bodies, and it operates on a joint funding model — 50% coming from the SEAI’s budget and 50% from the public sector body’s voted funds.

The national and EU targets for increasing energy efficiency and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions out to 2030 and beyond are ambitious and challenging, but initiatives such as this programme will assist Ireland as we strive to achieve those targets. Videos about Pathfinder have been made to illustrate the experience of different sectors, for example: