Biogas – Waste not Wasted
Volume 2 - Issue 12
By Terry Wildman, Senior Editor
This story begins some twenty years ago with a couple of pioneers – Paul and Fritz Klaesi. They moved from their native Switzerland to Canada to start a dairy farm northwest of Ottawa, Ontario. As their operation grew, so too did the problem of managing copious amounts of manure their 140 cows produced each and every day. Fortunately, environmental stewardship was in their blood and they knew there was joy to be found inside those piles of waste. Already familiar with the development of biogas in Europe they decided it would make good economic sense to install a biogas generator on their new property. Based on scientific study that shows the power value of a single cow is about 2 kWh of electricity per day, or approximately 730 kWh over a year, they calculated the fuel source would, at the very least, produce enough power to offset the huge monthly electricity charges used to run their farming operations while at the same time limit greenhouse gasses (GHG). “We saw that we can really do something for the environment, and use the cycles that God provided in nature,” said Paul Klaesi. “There is so much energy in manure. We are trying to make an economic case for biogas, and still work with nature.”
Paul’s expertise as an electrical engineer was indispensible when it came to the design work on the installation and integration of a European-built, CAD180,000 anaerobic digester (AD), and the first of its kind in Ontario. In mid-2003, the unit became operational and in short order their knowledge and determination started paying off. The large volume of methane gas produced by the anaerobic digestion and fermentation of manure, crop residue, and other organic waste kept their electrical generator humming. The system produces 400 cubic metres of methane gas and generates 750 kW of electrical power daily, more than enough to meet the needs of the farm plus two houses. The outlay to cover their monthly electric bill dropped to a small fraction and at that rate the brothers calculated their investment would be paid off in less than ten years.
The road to electrical self-sufficiency has been rife with regulatory challenges, taking more than two years to obtain all of the necessary approvals to get going. Klaesi is the first to admit the current (2009) environment made it tough to profit from selling any excess electricity into the grid. The province paid only 11 cents per kWh for green energy, which, according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), negates the potential for the vast majority of operators to break even.
In spite of the drawbacks the Klaesi operation has become a benchmark for the farming community and represents significant opportunities for farms. The brothers’ hope for the future is to see methane generators and ethanol plants working side by side. Because heat makes up fifty per cent of the energy coming out of methane during electrical generation, capturing that heat for ethanol production would be a win-win as both systems would be much more energy efficient. Paul would also like to see co-digestion systems like the ones in Switzerland whereby a farmer co-operative sells green biogas power directly to consumers. To this end he continues to promote public awareness with a view to increasing demand for green power sources.
About a month ago, the UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change delivered its energy white paper and 2020 renewables roadmap to the wide acceptance of the anaerobic digestion and biogas and recycling communities across the country. According to the report investment of more than £110 billion (CAD176 billion) is needed to build the equivalent of 20 large power stations and upgrade the electricity grid. Looking forward, electricity demand is set to double largely due to transport and heating being shifted onto the grid. In response to these challenges, the Government released a paper entitled ‘Planning our electric future: a White Paper for secure, affordable and low-carbon electricity.’ The White Paper outlines key measures to attract investment, reduce the impact on consumer bills, and create a secure mix of electricity sources including gas, new nuclear, renewables, and carbon capture and storage (CCS). “It is vital for the UK to meet its climate change goals and there is a lot of work for the Government and industry still to do to ensure that energy generation loses its reliance on fossil fuels,” said Lord Redesdale, chairman of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ABDA) and firm proponent of Government’s stance. “As the Renewables Obligation is phased out and replaced with the new FIT Contract for Difference, it is vital that renewable industries like AD are given as much certainty as possible.”
Redesdale went on to say, “Investors are already concerned about the effect of changes in policy, so Government needs to ensure that it gives consistent messages that reassure UK plc (public liability companies) that they are committed to support technologies like AD which deliver the best carbon and financial value in helping meet the UK’s Climate Change legal obligations and other strategic requirements.”
Key elements of the White Paper reform package include:
Lifetime Recycling Village1 Managing Director, Neil Gallacher stated, “This week’s UK Renewable Energy Roadmap takes an important step in the right direction and we are delighted to see a clear plan laid out for meeting our 2020 goal for 15 per cent energy consumption from renewables.”
At the grass-roots level, Soil Association Scotland announced, on August 16 2011, that it is running a skills development programme to help farmers and growers improve their business sustainability, cut GHG emissions, reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint, prepare for new pests and diseases, and increase resilience to climate change.
As governments look to attract investments in AD on massive scales, author and environmentalist Bill McKibben reminds us that creativity in producing energy is alive and well at all levels, including the developing world about which he says, “I’ve stood in many tiny farm huts where the wife showed me, with considerable pride, the cooking flame provided by a biogas digester buried in the yard – pretty much a concrete tank, where you shovel the manure from a water buffalo or a cow or two. As that decomposes, it gives off enough gas for a rice cooker and to heat the water for a shower. It can change lives.”2
1 Lifetime Recycling Village is committed to building a sustainable future for Scotland. Their goal is to reduce the tonnes of waste from landfills by recycling and remanufacturing as much as possible. Apart from new products and renewable energy, it creates jobs and attracts investment while meeting carbon reduction targets.
2 McKibben, Bill. EAARTH Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. New York, U.S.A. Times Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2010 p192