11.07.13 @ 20:53Leonardo da Vinci ABLE reports
Biogas work placement BIO4GAS part II, Bavaria, Germany, 20th to the 31st May, 2013
It was also arranged for me to visit Munich and stay with a colleague’s son who is studying there, this was fantastic as it coincided with the Champions league final between Munich and Dortmund. I had a Great Weekend in Munich and very much enjoyed the game. The following Monday I was introduced to the plans for the consideration of the district planning Authorities and of the Farmer. From information gathered from the sales representative and site surveys BIO4GAS detailed drawings and site plans than considered all the necessary parameters would be created. I learnt more about the planning procedure for Germany which was also very different to that in the UK.
Thomos Dorey and I talked later about the possibility of me continuing to work for the company after my training had finished. He wanted me to become a sales representative in Wales and to provide the soon to be created BIO4GAS UK partner with some clients. I was Very happy with the offer! And was glad to accept the opportunity it would be the best way to really get to grips with the whole process and is very much something that I would like to be doing in the future.
My next task was with Ludwig Denk one of the project managers who ran through some of the instructions for the construction of the concrete digester. The protocol was very precise and Ludwig explained that there had been a few cases where the construction had not been up to the standards expected by the company. I proof read one of Ludwig’s documents for him which was to be used by the Italian partners for some new contractors in Modena. I found this exercise particularly interesting as it furthered my understanding of how the digester is created and what steps must be adhered to.
I began to work through some figures I had provided the company with before I left the UK left. It was a difficult task as the figures were very rough and the production system is very different to that in Germany. This is perhaps the main barrier to success in the UK. Production in Germany is far more intensive, Animals are housed all year round on Slats which makes the collection of fresh slurry to feed the digester consistent and simple. The extensive production methods used by the majority of british farmers is suited to our more temporal climate and lower grade agricultural land. My research into the production systems in Britain did however show that due to economic pressure on dairy farms more people are moving towards intensive production to reduce costs and increase efficiency. This would be beneficial for the anaerobic digestion industry but raises animal welfare issues that the British public would be opposed too.
I began to work around the issues around the feeding of the digester, we introduced silage and old manure into the slurry mix at the times of year when the cattle are out in the fields. This would mean the digester would continue to be viable during these months but at a lower output which obviously would impact the economics of the plant and the environmental permitting. If we were to use these as a feedstock water would have to be added to maintain the substrates pumpability again complicating the process and increasing costs. The spread sheet used for the plant design and methane production was very detailed and impressive; every variable was considered and conservative methane production figures are used. Often the farmer finds his production higher than predicted. The spread sheet allows you to enter values for methane production after laboratory testing of slurry on a potential farm which creates more robust figures to work with.
A process engineer and I then talked through how the whole project is coordinated from start to finish. It was hard to grasp all the steps involved here and I imagine that the process in the UK would be very different. Despite all my notes it is difficult to picture every aspect involved I very much hope to have some real hands on experience of the process in the UK to further my experience and understanding. The following day was spent again on site; there had been a few problems in a digester north of Munich. I was traveling with an engineer who helped me further my understanding of the system and how the parameters are controlled and set by the CPU in the CHP. In this visit the gas measurement for oxygen was too high and the digesters performance was below what was expected. The problem was caused by the air compressor providing oxygen for the TGL module being on the wrong setting this was simply solved by altering the parameters within the CPU of the digester.
Back in Kaufering, I took the time to re-establish and further my understanding of the whole system and looking at each individual component in detail and how they all operate together. In particular I looked at the mixing system where there are three separate controls which offer a failsafe system with a high level of safety. My final day was spent completing the PowerPoint presentation which I would show to Thomos Dorey and also run through the figures that I was working on. The figures that we had worked on were very rudimental and I would have to work out more exact figures when I returned home. Thomos Dorey showed a great understanding of the system and was quick to point out some floors in our calculations but again we worked around these and were successful in working out a basic economic model which calculated a 9-10 year return on investment.
During the past week Gunter Woltron had successfully created a partnership with BIO4GAS in the UK. I had been in contact with Gunter prior to my departure and he had helped to organise some exercises for me to be involved with when I was away he was also helpful when giving me some direction on how to proceed on my return. I am still in contact with him but as of yet I have been too busy to contact some potential clients in my surrounding area. I am looking forward to becoming more involved with BIO4GAS and gaining some valuable experience, the placement has been very worthwhile to me and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Germany. It has also given me time to consider my career goals, I feel that there is a gap in the knowledge and also a reluctantcy to adopt sustainable practices, I hope that in the future I can create a consultancy business to educate farmers that becoming more environmentally conscious and implementing new renewable technologies on farms can have a positive effect on their business.