A group of young farmers have recently returned from a successful and very informative two-day study tour of farm-based renewable energy technologies in Germany, co-ordinated by National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC), the National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC) and the German renewables agency the FNR.
The group made three farm visits and also spent some time at the FNR. The first of the visits was to a decentralised oil-mill run by five farmers in the Camitz region. The mill crushes 4,500 tonnes of rapeseed each year mostly supplied by the local farmers, generating 1.3 million litres of oil which is used as straight vegetable oil in their agricultural vehicles and local lorry fleets. 2,600 tonnes of rape meal was also generated for the animal feed market.
Due to the changing biofuel support framework in Germany the mill is planning to change from fuel to culinary oil supply in the near future which is possible with no change to the existing technology.
Farm-based biogas production
The other two visits were to farm-based biogas plants. The first a dry-digestion plant based on an arable farm in Hermannshof, using only maize silage from 240 ha to generate electricity for the farm and the grid, and heat for use in a wood-drying plant based on the farm drying over 400,000 tonnes of wood each year. This family-run farm currently employs six full time staff, one who works on the biogas plant for just 4 – 5 hours per day. The plant generates 526 kWh of electricity and 560 kWh of heat. The system was established in 2006 at a cost of 1.5 million €, but due to the EEG (Renewable Energy Act) which provides 20 year guaranteed bonus for biogas derived from energy crops the plant is expected to payback within seven years.
The final farm visit was to a family-run mixed dairy and arable farm based in Steinhagen. This farm milks 1,300 cows three times a day and farms almost 1,500 ha of arable land. The biogas system here was a wet-digestion plant running on slurry and maize silage, generating 320 kWh electric and 400 kWh heat. The system was built in 2001 and again due to the favourable support system for using energy crops as a feedstock it had paid for itself by the end of 2007, within just six years. This system cost 500,000€ to install, with an additional 100,000 € for the grid connection which is over 400metres from the plant; electricity production costs are estimated at around 4 – 6 cents per kWh and under the EEG a price of 16 cents per kWh are paid to the producer, guaranteed for 20 years.
“Any farmer in the UK could run a biogas system”
Lucy Hodsman, Agriculture Manager for the NNFCC commented “The trip was an excellent opportunity for the group to experience first-hand the options for biogas production and utilisation at the farm-scale on both arable and mixed units. It was clear everyone thoroughly enjoyed the trip and returned full of ideas and enthusiasm to implement something similar on their own farms.”
Lucy continued “I truly believe, with the incentive of double ROC’s proposed for biogas production, there has never been a better time for UK farmers to consider their role in renewable energy supply. The trip has proved Anaerobic Digestion is not just for the dairy sector, nor just for industry – realistically any farmer in the UK could run a system on home- and locally-sourced feedstock, with the additional benefit of being able to charge gate-fees for taking in food waste from local suppliers and retailers.”
The National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) is one of the largest youth organisations in the UK. It heads a nationwide body of 659 Young Farmers’ Clubs (YFCs) located throughout England and Wales dedicated to supporting young people in agriculture and the countryside. Their memberships comprise 22,100 members aged 10 to 26 and they provide a unique opportunity for members to develop skills, work with the local community, travel abroad, take part in a varied competitions programme and enjoy a dynamic social life. There are a further 1,100 associate members, many of whom are involved in the running of the clubs and NFYFC. For more information about NFYFC, visit www.nfyfc.org.uk
The National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC) is an independent organisation based in York, which provides information to farmers, industry, government and the public on renewable materials made from crops. Technology transfer managers and a dedicated agriculture manager give practical and strategic help to farmers and members of industry, helping to build supply chains from the farm through to the market. An abundance of information is available via the NNFCC website. Publications range from reports, newsletters and crop fact sheets to FAQ sheets and educational materials.
Source: National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC), 2008-04-15.