A huge plant to turn thousands of tonnes of chicken waste into renewable energy is to be built in Co Antrim, it can be revealed.
Negotiations are at an advanced stage for the multi-million pound anaerobic digester to be constructed at an undisclosed location, partly-funded by Government loans.
The plant is expected to be up and running within two years and will provide the poultry industry with an urgently-needed solution to the growing environmental problem of chicken waste.
Details emerged as Stormont ministers Michelle O'Neill and Jonathan Bell confirmed that a similar £23m anaerobic digester is currently being built in Co Donegal, aided by a £9.3m loan from Invest NI.
The Glenmore project, located on a private estate near Ballybofey, will turn surplus poultry litter into low carbon biogas and organic fertiliser. The plant will be fuelled by a range of organic feedstocks, including 25,000 tonnes per year of poultry litter from Northern Ireland producers, as well as slurry and silage. It will generate renewable energy in the form of biogas, which will be transported in containers to the Montupet and Bombardier factories in Northern Ireland where it will be used to power the manufacturing process.
Even the trucks transporting the fuel will be powered with biogas.
A Mallusk-based company, Williams Industrial Services, is building the Glenmore plant.
The millions of birds reared in Northern Ireland create around 260,000 tonnes of poultry litter a year. At present most of the waste is spread as fertiliser on fields. But it is rich in nitrogen and phosphorous, which can run off into rivers and lakes and damage them.
A controversial plan by Rose Energy to build a £100m incinerator plant at Glenavy near Lough Neagh was finally scrapped by then Environment Minister Alex Attwood in 2012. The poultry industry was in favour of the project but locals fought a long campaign against it.
In 2014 the Departments of Enterprise and Agriculture launched a scheme to find innovative ways of dealing with poultry waste and set up a loan fund to get projects off the ground.
"The Glenmore project is the first to reach financial close under the scheme and will help our poultry sector to grow and provide low carbon energy for some of our most important manufacturers," said Enterprise Minister Mr Bell.
Another product from the new plant will be liquid digestate, including phosphates, nitrates and other nutrients, which is to be used as an organic fertiliser in adjacent commercial forestry and agricultural land.
Agriculture Minister Ms O'Neill said: "We are committed to helping our agri-food sector grow in ways that are commercially and environmentally sustainable.
"Such innovative and sustainable processes will allow the sector to flourish."