The German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) has led to a considerable increase in the use of biogas in Germany. However, increasing biogas production must make ecological sense and not generate conflict with the sustainability objectives of environmental conservation schemes. There must therefore be a careful consideration of the overall conditions. An analysis of the ecological impact of the generation and use of biogas in Germany taking into account legal and economic aspects was coordinated by ifeu - Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidelberg and recommendations were given to policy makers.
The biologist Prof. Dr. Marian Kazda from Ulm has worked on biogas research for many years. However, he occupies a particular niche in that he approaches the topic from the point of view of a problem-oriented ecologist. The 55-year-old is head of the Institute of Systematic Botany and Ecology at the University of Ulm and his specific field of research is plant ecology. It was his work on wetlands that first got him interested in biogas research.
Biogas plants have become well-known sights throughout Germany and are usually built according to standardised concepts. The biogas plant that is currently being constructed in the village of Zermatt below the Matterhorn presented the GICON Großmann Ingenieur Consult GmbH planners with a particular challenge. The geographical and climatic conditions of the area and seasonal waste variations due to seasonally fluctuating tourist numbers required them to come up with an individualised solution.
Conventional biogas plants have the disadvantage that the production of energy cannot be controlled in a flexible way. Therefore, Großmann Ingenieur Consult GmbH (GICON) has developed a fast, simple method for controlling biogas production from renewable resources. In addition, the two-stage dry-wet fermentation process with split hydrolysis makes it possible to control the two stages independently. Heribert Krämer, head of the GICON subsidiary in Konstanz, is convinced that this method is a major step on the road towards the establishment of virtual power stations.
In 2011 Baden-Württemberg was home to around 37 bioenergy villages and several others are under construction or in the planning phase. Bioenergy villages produce all of their electricity and energy for heating locally from renewable resources such as maize and wood electricity is mainly generated from biogas.
Grass flowers and small bushes are constant features along roadsides they are mowed at regular intervals and either dumped left where they are or less frequently composted. Cuttings like these could contribute to solving the global energy problem and even generate money. However communities that are aiming to turn green waste from roadsides riversides or sports grounds into biogas and hence a renewable source of energy are confronted with practical problems that require precise planning and the assessment of potential gain. Dr. Chantal Ruppert-Winkel and her team from the Centre for Renewable Energy in Freiburg have carried out a survey in a Baden-Württemberg administrative district aimed at identifying the factors that communities need to take into account before setting up renewable energy systems i.e. using previously neglected sources of biogas for generating energy and heat.
Microalgae are veritable treasure troves. The cosmetics food and chemical industries already use algal metabolic products for various applications. In future the green unicellular organisms might also be grown on a large scale in photobioreactors installed on fallow land where they will be used as regenerative sources of energy. Mark Fresewinkel from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT is involved in a cooperative project aimed at developing an effective photobioreactor that integrates a biogas plant.
At a time when energy crops are competing with food crops for agricultural land, the company n-bio GmbH is doing something positive by turning what is considered waste into bioenergy. This not only reduces waste disposal costs, but also protects the environment. The technically highly sophisticated waste fermentation plants manufactured by n-bio GmbH automatically remove packaging residues and are also able to cope with pralines. The company’s technology also ensures that fermentation residues remain pathogen-free so that they can be used as fertilizers. By applying the “Danish” principle the company’s managing director Michael Schuster is able to produce biogas whilst keeping energy consumption relatively low.
Partners from industry and research have joined forces to develop an innovative method for the production of biogas. In contrast to standard methods, the chemical degradation processes will in future take place in different tanks rather than in just one. The developers hope that the separation of the processes will expedite the degradation processes, improve the quality of the individual degradation products, and enable their broad applications. Scientists of the University of Hohenheim are working on the construction of a three-part technical module that Tübingen-based AVAT Automation GmbH complements with a sophisticated measurement and control system.
Professor Bernhard Schink from the University of Konstanz has been focused on different aspects of the interaction of fermenting bacteria and methanogenic archaea for more than 25 years. Archaea have the unique ability to produce methane at the threshold of viability. The biologists research group is seeking to obtain insights into how prokaryotes such as those found in Lake Constance sediments are able to survive under anaerobic conditions. Research into prokaryotes has the potential to contribute to improving the production of methane in biogas plants.
A biomass action day was recently organised at the Unterer Lindenhof experimental station in order to show schoolchildren a number of features of different agricultural products that fuel that is made from rape seed is capable of taking them from Egypt to South Africa that the use of wood for heating houses is very ecological and that various plant oils can taste very differently. This action day was made possible thanks to the Hohenheim Institute of Crop Production and Grassland Research winner of the Alltagstauglich suitable for everyday use contest organised in the 2009 Science Year.
The BioRegio STERN Management GmbH and the Wirtschaftsförderung Region Stuttgart GmbH sent out invitations to the 7th Brüssels Background entitled Bio-energy Out of research. Into practice. Experts presented and discussed the latest figures and information on the subject of bio-energy.
In the long run, biopolymers will find their way into industry and everyday life; they are the polymers of the future. The Institute for Sanitary Engineering, Water Quality and Solid Waste Management at the University of Stuttgart offers applications of biopolymers for the preparation of water as well as a new recycling strategy.
Reducing energy consumption by 8,000 kWh and being able to generate 15,000 kWh of electrical power per day can save 500,000 euros operating costs in a year, as a project carried out by WEHRLE Umwelt GmbH on behalf of a pharmaceutical company found. WEHRLE Umwelt has been working with environmental technologies for over 30 years, principally focussing on plants for industrial wastewater treatment. The company offers intelligent solutions that are far removed from conventional wastewater treatment plants.
In view of the changing climate and the finiteness of fossil resources, research into renewable energies is gaining in importance. One of the things that researchers have been looking into for quite some time is different possibilities to use organic wastewater compounds as sustainable energy sources. Carsten Meyer from the University of Stuttgart works on the generation of alternative energy sources. Together with his team of researchers, Meyer was involved in a recently finished project that looked into the biological production of hydrogen from wastewater and sewage sludge.
Phosphorus is essential for life on Earth all organisms need the element for growth. The principal application of phosphorus is in fertilisers. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB are currently developing a method to recover organic phosphorus from fermentation residues and agricultural residues such as manure. The IGB researchers hope to recover up to 90 percent of the organically bound phosphate.
In comparison to other plants, algae grow quickly and produce large quantities of biomass. They generate a much greater mass per square metre than other energy plants. In addition, almost all algal biomass can be used as raw material for the pharmaceutical industry, amongst others. Therefore, a technology that is able to effectively produce microalgae on an industrial scale could make a considerable contribution to the energy and material industry as well as to climate protection. A company called GICON uses a photobioreactor based on the “Christmas tree” principle to successfully minimise the formation of biofilm, which inhibits the productivity of the algae.
Algae have become the beacons of hope in terms of energy generation and carbon dioxide fixation. Stuttgart–based Subitec GmbH has developed a unique reactor system to improve the cultivation of algae. The establishment of further pilot plants gives the company access to the constantly growing energy market.
It is rather reassuring to know that fossil energy carriers can be replaced by renewable ones. However, the difficulties are always in the details. For example with regard to the storage capacity of electricity produced with sun and wind; or with regard to the use of biomass to produce natural gas substitutes. The Stuttgart-based Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) has a number of solutions up its sleeve for overcoming such difficulties. The ZSW researchers are able to produce high-quality natural gas substitutes from wood and electrical power. In addition, the centre has just set a world record in the efficiency of thin-film solar cells.
Jatropha is an extremely hardy and frugal plant species native to tropical and subtropical areas where it grows on wasteland. Jatropha seeds contain large quantities of oil that can be processed into a variety of products such as biofuels, animal feed, cosmetics and organic fertiliser. However, few Jatropha species have been properly domesticated, and the yields of the plants that grow in the wild are too small to be economically viable. Jatropha experts from the consulting company JatroSolutions from Stuttgart-Hohenheim are seeking to change this and since 2007 have been focussing on ways to make Jatropha cultivation economically profitable, as well as ecologically and socially acceptable. The first Jatropha varieties that meet the required criteria were placed on the market in 2014.
It is just a matter of time before coal and oil will run out. However, there are, it would seem, ways to counteract this situation. Plants can be turned into fossil energy carriers, with the added advantage that the combustion of plants on average only releases as much CO2 as the plants have previously absorbed from the atmosphere. Professor Andrea Kruse from the University of Hohenheim is developing methods for using whole green plants for the industrial production of biofuel.
Jointly organised by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), the recent Green Economy conference focused on how a sustainable bioeconomy can contribute to creating an environmentally friendly future. The conference participants agreed that immediate action was needed. Research programmes have been put in place to explore the opportunities, risks and general conditions associated with the establishment of a green economy, to give recommendations for action, and recommendations on how to deal with the challenges of climate change and the scarcity of energy and resources.
The conversion of undeveloped land into residential areas and roads in Baden-Württemberg has in fact fallen by fifty percent in the past ten years, but there is still a long way to go before land management becomes sustainable. Detailed studies on the changing conditions of land use are necessary in order to develop practical concepts for environmentally compatible planning.
In order to achieve the sought-after shift towards sustainable regenerative energy supply, researchers around the world are focusing on the conversion of solar energy into hydrogen and carbon compounds using artificial chemical systems. They aim to achieve much more efficient photosynthesis than plants have. Other scenarios foresee improving the energy balance of photosynthesis by modifying the photosynthesis system.
Alternative engines and fuels for cars of the future still lack technical maturity and are not yet competitive. In the short to medium term, the only way to replace fossil fuel will be other fossil fuels – compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid petroleum gas (LPG). Biodiesel and ethanol are and will remain for the foreseeable future the only renewable resource alternatives to fossil fuel. As is the case for any other technology, the development of second-generation (2G) biogenic fuels requires a lot of time, money and know-how.