Representatives from local businesses, local government and academics have met to discuss how they could take a collaborative approach to solving some of the challenges in meeting zero carbon targets.

The stakeholder event hosted by Encirc at Derrylin was one of the first meetings of the Zero Carbon Cooperatives which arose from a meeting in Enniskillen earlier this year as part of a project led by Queen's University Belfast.

This project is funded by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and is led by Professor David Rooney of QUB.

At Tuesday's meeting, Professor Rooney introduced the concept of cooperative working explaining that some of the stakeholders present had significant contributions to make. These included Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, the largest of the councils in Northern Ireland; Balcas described as a carbon negative company; Encirc which produces glass bottles; Mannok with its cement factory and the agricultural industry.

The agricultural representative, David Brown from Florencecourt who is also President of the Ulster Farmers' Union, outlined some of the challenges of the industry to reduce carbon emissions.

He said that Northern Ireland with a population of 1.9m people can produce enough food for 10m people across the British Isles and pointed out that the UK was just 60 per cent self sufficient in food.

The farming community accept they are part of the solution but point out that it was necessary for them to feed the nation. The alternative was importing more food produced in countries with a higher carbon footprint.

He said some sectors of agriculture had already embraced change; the pig and poultry sectors had greatly improved feed conversion rates through genetic improvement.

He emphasised however that targets must be science led.

Fiacre O'Donell, Director of Sustainability at Encirc revealed: "Glass is a natural and infinitely recyclable material, but it has an energy issue. Historically furnaces have used oil and gas as core fuels, which significantly increases the carbon intensity of glass bottles. This a problem that needs to be solved," he told the meeting.

He added: "In our Cheshire plant we are looking at hydrogen as a solution. While in NI this biomethane project is presenting a real opportunity to decarbonise glass and help with emissions from agriculture at the same time. This project could decarbonise 80 per cent of the gas needed in NI and would position Encirc as a leader in decarbonising the glass industry."

Celine McCartan from Fermanagh and Omagh District Council said they had a civic leadership role and want to work collaboratively to improve carbon emissions.

Thomas Cromie from Queen's University explored the potential of partnerships and communities and referred to some practical ideas that could help, citing that instead of importing phosphate in the form of fertiliser, why not capture it from excesses in lakes and rivers. However he said it had to be done commercially with jobs created.

Brian Murphy from Balcas, said that Ireland could produce 90 per cent of the timber needed for construction in Ireland.

Through their production of sawmill residues and wood pellets, they were helping to save a considerable amount of oil being imported.

Paul Monaghan from Mannok, explained how the cement manufacturing industry was a difficult one to work with considering the use of the raw materials extracted locally, the production process and the waste.

However he said they were looking at alternative fuels to the main fuel source of coal. They were looking at the potential of green hydrogen as an alternative fuel source. At present, their fleet of 150 trucks used over four million litres of diesel and green fuels could reduce that by up to 70 per cent.

The group discussed the potential of waste products from industries as well as households.

The final speaker was Robert Duncan, from Mabbett and Associates who suggested how firms could capture their data on emissions and waste streams, energy and how feasible it would be to work with other companies locally.

The group finished off their discussions with a tour of the glass factory.