Biodiversity Action Week from 29 June to 3 July 2020

Blooming energy crop field – press event organised by the German Biogas Association, Schmack Biogas Service and REWAG in Lappersdorf

Significance of the cup plant energy crop for species and soil protection

Lappersdorf, 30 June 2020 – Biodiversity and biogas are not contradictory. On the contrary – the use of biogas offers the opportunity for our fields to become more colourful and rich in variety in the long term, whilst providing a valuable habitat for our wildlife and insects at the same time.

As part of BIODIVERSITY ACTION WEEK, the German Biogas Association, in conjunction with a range of other associations and organisations, was eager to draw attention to the fact that energy crop fields can be colourful and rich in variety. As part of the action week, the German Biogas Association, Schmack Biogas Service and REWAG, together with district administrator Tanja Schweiger, demonstrated the importance of the “cup plant” energy crop for biodiversity.

The third mayor of Lappersdorf, Dr Doris Schmack, welcomed representatives from agriculture, bee-keeping and hunting, as well as the press, to the press conference on Tuesday afternoon. Schmack Biogas Service and REWAG have been jointly promoting the cultivation of this alternative energy crop for eight years on a three hectare plot close to Lappersdorf. The initiators have found an engaged partner in farmer Franz Habenschaden. “We painstakingly planted out 80,000 plants here in 2012, all by hand – only a small portion could be sown. There were some initial problems – the crop was completely new to Europe, but we now have a beautifully dense crop that no longer needs any protection measures,” Mr Habenschaden explains.

The district administrator was pleased with the number of visitors, as it is an indicator of the degree of common interest in species and insect protection amongst different groups: “The cup plant is the answer to alternatives in energy crop cultivation. As a permanent crop, it covers the ground year round, helping to prevent erosion and providing good shelter for ground game. You just let it grow and then cut it – that’s the beauty of this crop.”

The crop is used for energy in one of REWAG’s biogas plants. Schmack Biogas is responsible for raw materials management at the plant. For Manuel Götz, managing director of Schmack Biogas Service GmbH, the cup plant is an attractive addition to conventional energy crops: “It combines ecological and economic benefits in biogas production with notable success. Clever substrate management and the use of flowering plants can, therefore, make a positive contribution to biodiversity.”

For REWAG Regensburger Energie- und Trinkwasserversorgung AG und Co KG, the cup plant project has been extremely interesting. The cup plant is particularly well suited to cultivation in outer water protection areas. It needs very little fertiliser, and no herbicides after the first year. The cup plant field is located in the catchment area of the Sallern water extraction plant, which is where 80 percent of Regensburg’s drinking water originates. “For REWAG, planting fields with the cup plant is a valuable contribution to groundwater protection,” explains REWAG chairman Dr Torsten Briegel. “The crop is processed in REWAG’s biogas plant in Schwabelweis.”

Johann Mayer, district chairman of the Bavarian Farmers’ Association and chairman of the supply association of the Schwabelweis biogas plant, highlighted the pioneering work undertaken by the district of Regensburg to support flowering plants. He also hopes that it will serve as a green light for biogas utilisation. Plants such as the cup plant or extensive grass growth are not eaten by cattle, so the only sensible use is for energy purposes. The plants therefore deliver climate-friendly energy from the region, as they also absorb CO₂ from the air.

Representatives of the local bee-keepers’ association and the hunting association in Regensburg, Josef Fichtl and Helmut Seiler, also confirmed the positive impact of the flowering crop on bees, other insects and animals. “When the fields start to bloom in July, it’s the ideal pasture for wild bees,” explains Josef Fichtl. The tall growth provides cover for game throughout the year and shelter for overwintering insects. Helmut Seiler pointed out that here, in the vicinity of the river Regen, the use of appropriate plants, soil samples and fertiliser recommendations has meant that there has been no measurable soil pollution for several years.

In his closing remarks, Markus Bäuml, spokesperson for the German Biogas Association, emphasised that for the operator of a biogas plant, cultivation of flowering crops rather than maize also means a loss of income due to the lower gas yield per hectare. Nevertheless, many farmers are willing to voluntarily give up part of their income and to grow alternative energy crops. If the cultivation of flowering energy crops is to happen on a larger, nationwide scale to improve biodiversity, farmers must be given assistance through better framework conditions. Consequently, biogas can contribute in manifold ways to maintaining or re-establishing an attractive cultivated landscape in Germany.

Cup plant

The yellow flowering crop from North America is a good addition to maize as an energy supplier for biogas plants. It can grow to a height of three metres and can achieve a comparable mass yield. The undemanding perennial covers the ground permanently and provides ideal groundwater protection thanks to its soil regeneration capacity. Following the year of planting, no soil cultivation or herbicides are needed because of the extreme density of the crop. The cup plant can be fertilised with fermentation products from the biogas plant. Due to its long flowering period – from the end of June to September – it contains an especially large quantity of nectar and pollen, making it the ideal pasture for bees. It provides a habitat and food source for native wildlife and insects.

Cultivation of energy crops in Germany

Energy crops for use in biogas plants are currently cultivated on a total of 1.55 million hectares of land in Germany. This is equivalent to nearly 13 percent of all arable land. Around 9500 plants produce around 33.4 terawatt hours of climate-friendly power, enough to supply around 9.5 million households.

Biogas plants, faced with a difficult market environment due to the expiry of the German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) payment, need to find innovative solutions that combine economic efficiency with ecology and thus boost the likelihood of the plants’ continued existence.

Brief information about Biodiversity Action Week

A number of associations and organisations, business, politicians and well known figures have teamed up at the initiative of the German Biogas Association to address the loss of biodiversity in our fields and insect mortality, and to highlight the path to solutions. The cultivation of energy crops rich in variety is a promising approach. Using posts and statements on social media, as well as local press events, the Biogas Association organised a concerted week of action to demonstrate what is already happening and to explain what possibilities lie ahead. The action week is supported by Bavarian Minister of Economic Affairs Hubert Aiwanger, luger and biogas ambassador Georg Hackl, and television presenter and qualified meteorologist Sven Plöger.

Schmack Biogas Service GmbH
Schmack Biogas Service GmbH, Schwandorf, is a leading German supplier in the biogas industry. The range of services includes technical and biological service, operational management and the modernisation of biogas plants. The company can draw on more than 20 years of expertise and experience in the maintenance, operation and optimisation of biogas plants. Schmack Biogas Service is a company of Hitachi Zosen Inova.

REWAG Regensburger Energie- und Wasserversorgung AG & Co KG is a regional energy and drinking water supplier that brings electricity, natural gas, heat and drinking water to more than 200,000 private households and business customers. REWAG was founded in 1976 and currently employs around 500 people to provide a convenient and reliable supply of energy and drinking water to the region. It also offers bespoke energy concepts for commercial and business customers. REWAG has evolved from a pure energy supplier to a decentralised energy producer. It focuses on environmentally responsible energy projects such as the construction of efficient power generation and heating plants, particularly with effective combined heat and power generation. In addition, the company also operates photovoltaic and biogas plants and a number of wind turbines. As a regional company, REWAG has responsibility in Regensburg and the surrounding region. It supports cultural, sporting and social associations, projects, events and campaigns.

German Biogas Association
The German Biogas Association (Fachverband Biogas e.V.) is a trade association that represents the biogas industry in the umbrella association of renewable energies, Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energie (BEE) e.V. With more than 4700 members, it is Europe’s largest biogas industry lobby. The Biogas Association represents manufacturers and plant constructors as well as agricultural and industrial biogas plant operators nationwide.