Biogas Boom in Germany Leads to Modern-Day Land Grab
by Nils Klawitter (Der Spiegel) Creating energy from corn once seemed like a revolutionary idea in Germany. But subsidies for the biogas industry have led to entire regions of the country being covered by the crop, and investors are eagerly waiting for local farmers’ land to go for sale. Some of those farmers who lease their land say they have been “ruined.”
Dairy farmer Renate Rahn has made it through a number of industry crises, including the mad-cow disease scare of 2001 and the dramatic fall in milk prices in 2009. “But now we’re being brought to our knees,” she says.
Low milk prices aren’t the only thing threatening her. Rahn lives near the Eider River in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, where she is having an increasingly hard time finding affordable land to lease for grazing her cows and growing their feed. Over the past four years, the average cost of leasing a hectare (2.5 acres) of land has skyrocketed from €250 ($315) to over €600 per year.
She and her fellow dairy farmers just lost even more corn fields to biogas companies. The corn grown there won’t be used to feed any cows. Instead, it will be sent to a reactor for refinement. The facility, which functions somewhat like a cow’s stomach, will be fed chopped-up corn twice a day. The corn is transformed into gases in the dome of the reactor. Energy-rich methane is then channeled into a combined heat and power unit (CHP) and transformed into electricity.
…Each biogas facility generates about 20,000 metric tons (44,000 pounds) of fermentation residue each year. This waste is then used as a fertilizer on the fields after the corn has been harvested. And just like pure liquid manure, these residues are nitrate bombs. READ MORE