An innovative biogas project led by Solrød Municipality in Denmark is proving a success as the first project financed under Mobilising Local Energy Investment (MLEI), the most recent funding initiative of Intelligent Energy Europe (IEE). As a complement to the ELENA facility–but with a specific focus on small and medium sized investment–MLEI offers support to European cities and regions to bridge the gap between sustainable energy plans and real investment in sustainable energy projects. Resulting from the first MLEI call for proposals in 2011, eight projects are now lined up to start.

Learn more about this MLEI project in a special interview with the project’s leader, Steen Danielsen.

Congratulations on gaining MLEI funding for your project—has the next development phase of the project started yet?

We just had the kick off meeting for this project on 2 July, it was very successful. There was very strong support from all parts of the municipalities, and representatives from all the project partners. This degree of local cooperation and collaboration has been very important to the development of the project to date. 

How did this project originate? 

It started back in 2008, with Solrod Municipality’s Climate Plan. One year later in 2009, after accepting the plan, the investigation into developing a biogas plant began. At present there are 20-25 biogas plants operating in Denmark.

Solrod signWhat makes this project different?

For a start, it will deal with the problem of algae on our beaches in summer, on the Baltic coastline of Solrod municipality. The municipality had to pay to clear the beaches of algae. It also was a nuisance in terms of odour for the local residents and water pollution, and deterred tourists from using the beach. So that is where it started – with commitment to the Climate Plan, and looking around to see what resources we could use. 

How did the local partners get involved? 

After our initial investigations in estimating the volume of algae we saw there was not enough to make the plant economically viable. Algae collected from the beaches of three different municipalities amounted to 22k tonnes per year, and we needed at least 50k tonnes. So we said, ok, we have 22k – what do we mix it with? In a neighbouring municipality there was a factory – operated by CPKelco – producing pectin, also with 22k tonnes pectin as a by-product. In fact, this is the biggest pectin production plant in the world. So we investigated pectin.

What are the benefits for CPKelco? 

Up until now, they have had to get rid of organic waste generated during the production process. Now it will be fed into the biogas plant. Logistically this is much easier for company than (what they do today, which is) transporting the organic matter to farmers in the region for cattle food.

How did the farmers get involved?

In combination with the algae, we had the volume, but the pH of the mixture was too low at around 3, we needed a pH of about 6 or 7. So we went to investigate the local farms and there was about 50k tonnes of manure from pigs and cattle. Instead of putting the manure straight on the field as fertilizer, now it will go into the biogas plant. The digested product from the biogas plant will be sold back to the farmers and is an even better fertiliser with lower nitrogen levels.

Who else did you involve in the research phase?

We combined these three waste streams and got the pH we needed. We worked with Aarhus University to see if the mix would work to produce the biogas—and yes, it could. In fact the gas potential was much higher—3 to 4 times higher—than the most productive biogas plant in Denmark. There are about 20-25 biogas plants in Denmark, all use manure only. 

What are the success factors?

We are not finished yet! We started with a climate plan, and the civic councillors committed totally to the plan. To realise the goals of this plan, set for 2025, we said lets look at a biogas plant—if we succeed it will get us 50-60% of the way towards our targets. 

pig and cowThe city council have fully backed the project—this was very important. Funding from the municipality so far is about 9M Danish Kroner ~ about €1.2 M. Now we have EU funding, but we wouldn’t have developed the project without the support from the municipality. You have to believe in what you are doing and find a cost-effective solution, keep looking for the point at which the plan becomes profitable. 

We had the full back up from all 19 of the elected officials / councillors. 

What advice would you give to others developing similar projects?

First, take a deep breath! And I encourage you to follow the progress of our project. If, within 1 or 2 years, we succeed it will be very easy to replicate this all over Europe, and with what we have learned from this experience, the next one will take about half the time—so 2.5 or 3, rather than 5 years. I hope we will succeed, if so, it will be very profitable, making money from day one, and so plenty of potential for private investment. The seaweed issue is also a problem for many coastal areas across Europe, thus replication potential for this concept will be very high and interesting for many more regions and municipalities.

Read the fact sheet on Solrod’s Biogas Plant Investment Project