Higher methane level, shorter process times, more flexible products: researchers from the University of Hohenheim are planning to establish a three-tier pilot plant over the next three years that is able to produce all this. In the long term, this will contribute to a reduction in the energy required to produce biogas relative to the energy currently required to produce natural gas and it will also enable biogas to be supplied via existing gas networks. This means that biogas will no longer have to be produced at the site where it is used. The researchers also envisage that the new plant will be more flexible than existing biogas plants in terms of substrates used and usable products. The cooperative project involves eight partners and is financed by the BMBF (Project Management Organisation Jülich) as part of the “Bioenergy 2021” programme, which is providing a total of 1.96 million euros. 275,500 euros are allocated to Hohenheim, making the project one of the major research activities at the University of Hohenheim.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In addition to sunlight water and wind biogas is a regenerative source of energy that contributes to saving fossil resources. Germany is home to around 7100 biogas plants including 796 as of 2011 in Baden-Württemberg. In 2010 these facilities produced 11 per cent of the electricity generated from renewables in Germany. Energy-rich methane is the major constituent of biogas and is produced when organic compounds are broken down by bacteria in the absence of oxygen.
There is a binding EU-wide target to source 20 per cent of each country’s energy needs, as stipulated in the Kyoto Protocol, from renewable sources by 2020. The production of biogas is one promising key technology that could lead to this target being reached. But which technologies, measures and conditions are needed to advance biogas technology in Europe? The EU research project SEBE (Sustainable and Innovative European Biogas Environment) is investigating the conditions that are required to push biogas technology forward. One of the 14 SEBE partners is the Institute for Sanitary Engineering, Water Quality and Solid Waste Management (ISWA) at the University of Stuttgart.
Biogas experts at the University of Hohenheim believe that up to 50 per cent more energy can be achieved per hectare of cultivated energy crops. The researchers are hoping that Germanys first biogas research plant will provide them with new insights.
There is a steady stream of people both Germans and foreigners going in and out of Eckhard Dinjus laboratory at the Institute of Technical Chemistry at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT. The 66-year-old chemist developed the bioliq method that is set to become an export hit due to its decentralised-centralised approach. Many years before the pilot plant started operating people from near and far including China had expressed their interest in the process.
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.
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 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.
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.
Biogas has become an alternative and sustainable energy resource. In 2013, the 7,850 biogas plants in Germany – including 858 in Baden-Württemberg – produced enough biogas to cover around seven percent of Germany’s total electricity needs. Martin Falger, managing director of wusoa GmbH in Stuttgart, explained in an interview with Sanja Fessl (BIOPRO) why he believes that small-scale biogas plants have a promising future. They expand the biogas plant spectrum by enabling regions that do not have enough biomass to operate large biogas plants to benefit from this energy resource. Livestock farms in these regions also benefit from the presence of the small-scale plants.
Mushy tomatoes, brown bananas and overripe cherries – to date, waste from wholesale markets has ended up on the compost heap at best. In future it will be put to better use: Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart have developed a new facility that ferments this waste to make methane, which can be used to power vehicles.
The ETAMAX research project brings together partners from research, the energy sector and industry and is aimed at using a combined, modular process to produce biogas from low-lignocellulosic waste such as supermarket waste and micro-algal biomass, at the same time as closing all substance cycles. The regenerative biomethane will be used to fuel a small fleet of gas-driven vehicles.
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.
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.
Microalgae are among the most promising sources of sustainable, carbon-neutral biofuels for the future. They are already being used as feedstock for producing biogas, biodiesel, bioethanol and kerosene, but the associated production methods consume a great deal of energy and are rather costly. Dr. Nikolaos Boukis from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is working on the development of a sophisticated, thermochemical process with an energy balance that promises to improve the situation.
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.
Biogas plants have become a familiar sight in Baden-Württemberg's rural areas. It might therefore be expected that broad experience exists in the comprehensive evaluation of this type of energy generation from renewable resources or organic materials. However, scientists draw a very differentiated picture. It is difficult to make any generalisations, although the analysis of individual facets can provide further help.
We talk about bioenergy, but what do we actually mean? The term bioenergy refers to renewable energy produced from material of biological origin. But is the term really exact? Does it create false expectations? “Bio” is often associated with something that is ecological, environmentally friendly and clean. Perhaps “energy from biomass” would be more appropriate? It’s a bulkier term than bioenergy, but also much more neutral.