Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

Biomass is the heat of the moment in germany

Alpine region leads fight against volatile oil prices with wood-fuelled heating systems

In an effort to reduce the Achental region's reliance on oil, a woodchip-fuelled district heating system has been developed
In an effort to reduce the Achental region's reliance on oil, a woodchip-fuelled district heating system has been developed
Many farm buildings also have solar panels
A typical domestic heating system installation
Half of the Achental region of south-eastern Germany is wooded and is ideally suited to producing biomass in the form of wood chip

Bruce Lett

With all the unrest in the oil rich regions of the Middle East and North Africa, we have again seen oil prices hit $100/barrel and higher. Our dependency on the black stuff to generate electricity, heat our houses and get us from A to B makes us extremely vulnerable to any increase in price.

In agriculture we are doubly dependant on the stuff because we need oil to fuel not only our cars and heating systems but also our tractors and other essential machinery.

Realistically, there is very little we can do about the fuel costs. For the foreseeable future we are stuck with fossil fuel.

Where we could make a saving, and as farmers perhaps even an income, is in the bio-energy sector, growing fuel for burning to generate heat and/or electricity.

Germany has been one of the market leaders in the field.

In late March, I travelled out with Westmeath Community Development Ltd (WCD) to the Achental Biomass Centre in Grassau. In an effort to reduce the Achental region's reliance on oil, a wood chip-fuelled district heating system has been developed. Both WCD and the Biomass Centre are part of the EU-funded BioRegions Project group which has 13 partners in 10 countries from Ireland to Sweden to Greece. Out of the 13, both Achental in Germany and Jönköping Sweden are 'best practice' regions, leading the way in the BioRegions Project.

The aim of the project is to support the creation of "bio-energy regions" in rural areas of Europe.

Their definition of a bio-energy region is one that gets at least one third of its heating and electricity needs from regional and sustainable bio-energy sources, with the main focus on solid biomass. Ideally, these bio-energy regions are small scale and decentralised rural areas or villages.

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The Achental region lies at the foothills of the Alps between Lake Chiemsee in Bavaria and the Kaisergebirge Mountains in the Tyrol.

Close to 75pc of the farms in this region are smaller than 20ha but 50pc of the region is wooded and is an ideal biomass project area. So,under the guidance of Bio Regions project manager Dr Christian Epp, in 2007 the Achental Biomass Centre was constructed as a logistical centre.


The aim of this was so that local farmers could supply wood chip to one central location where it would be dried for sale, use or distribution from the same central depot.

Wood pellets are also supplied from the same depot where they have storage capacity for 1,400t.

Up to 8,000t of wood pellets were sold from the centre last year, delivered either in bulk or by tanker, blown into customers' wood pellet burner hoppers. Many of these customers had changed from oil-based heating systems to wood pellet heating systems.

With the biomass centre established in 2007, the site was expanded further with the construction of a large 3.5MW heating plant on site with the capacity to provide heating for houses and businesses in the surrounding areas.

In addition to constructing the heating plant, an underground network of pipes had to be installed to bring the hot water from the plant throughout this largely rural community. Incredibly, this network brings heat to customers up to 10km away from the biomass centre.

The combined cost of constructing the plant and pipe network was €6.5m.

This was funded through a public, private partnership but owned by the community.

"There are 200 buildings connected to a system providing heat for 500 families and some commercial buildings and hotels," Wolfgang Wimmer, the centre manager, said.

Mr Wimmer said they hoped to connect up to 2,000 families over the next five to 10 years. A typical domestic connection to the heating system costs around €5,000 for the equipment and its installation. The heat is metered to the customer and costs 7c/kW/hr used.

The centre has now become a significant employer in the area with five full-time staff and four part-time staff.

Yet, it is just one person that controls, monitors and runs the heat plant and its system from the control room on site.

It is all fully automated with the exception of loading the wood chip into the feed hopper. Stepping out of the office, the same individual can monitor and control the system from an 'app' on his or her iPhone.

Indo Farming