Citizens Taking Charge: Germany’s Buzz over Maize
by Michael Eggleston* (Advanced Biofuels USA) Since 2012, Energiegenossenschaft (energy cooperative) Starkenburg e.G. (ES) has been serving the Starkenburg region as independent non-partisan citizens’ cooperative supporting Germany’s grassroots movement by promoting renewable energy projects to advance the standard of climate protection financed by their members.
Located in Lorsch, Germany, ES has been operating a biogas plant acquired by HEAG Suedhessische Energie AG (HSE) (Darmstadt) back in September of 2014.
Biogas plants can supply renewable electricity and heat independent of weather conditions utilizing renewable agricultural feedstocks and municipal bio waste. This technology is considered to be carbon–neutral because the maize grown around the bio-refinery consumes carbon dioxide throughout its lifecycle before being harvested, transported, and mixed with manure from local farms to then be digested by billions of microorganisms whose biogas powers a turbine producing electricity which flows into the local grid.
With the thermal energy of the plant they are able to support a nearby nursery in saving about 130,000 liters of heating oil per year along with securing the electrical power supply for about 1000 households in the area.
Pressured by the European Commission’s revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED) , the plant has begun an investigation, with the help of an energy engineering intern from the Hochschule Darmstadt, into utilizing feedstocks such as Silphium perfoliatum (cup plant), a plant of the daisy family that originates from North America which could have less harmful environmental impact compared to maize.
The main challenge for the cooperative is to convince farmers to integrate these new energy crops on marginal lands into their diverse crop rotation. Having much less yield than maize this will be a challenge for the cooperative says Board Member Micha Jost who oversees production at the facility.
Lacking the funds to implement a research team to investigate diverse sources of food for the bacteria such as municipal bio waste, the cooperative has managed to optimize energy output of the plant since its acquisition by implementing small changes.
Despite these challenges the cooperative looks forward to the future because they are able to maintain a high level of flexibility in their investments which enables them to keep up with the ever changing political climate as the EU strives to be the first to develop a carbon neutral bio-economy.
* Michael Eggleston is a chemical engineering student specializing in the process control & risk management of sustainable development with the University of Rhode Island’s International Engineering Program and spending a semester abroad at the Technische Universität Darmstadt in Darmstadt, Germany. He will be reporting on and representing Advanced Biofuels USA at international conferences.