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Renewable raw materials for the energy transition

On the campus at Klein-Altendorf, which belongs to the University of Bonn’s Faculty of Agriculture, they are breaking new ground. In his research field, renewable raw materials, Professor Ralf Pude investigates how special grasses and wood types can be used for efficient heating and insulation. In this way, he is making an important contribution to future climate protection. 

Germany’s Federal Government plans for 14 per cent of heating to be supplied by renewable energies by 2020. Wood is an important raw material when it comes to realising this objective, and it is therefore likely to become increasingly scarce and expensive. Scientists at the Klein-Altendorf campus have, therefore, made an early start by focusing on unlocking the potential of alternative bioenergy sources. The tall grass species miscanthus, also called Elephant Grass, has been shown to be a particularly efficient renewable raw material and is being extensively tested on site.

Engine for progress:

  • innovative research on the potential of renewable raw materials
  • extensive work on miscanthus as a material for heating and insulation
  • researchers conducted their own trials using an energy-efficient greenhouse on campus
  • research into peat substitutes
  • investigation of innovative packaging materials

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Photo: CKA

The subproject Agrohort Phäno included the construction of a greenhouse with a UVB-transparent roof to study and establish the phenotype of crops – in this case, lamb’s lettuce.



High energy density offers great potential for climate protection 

Elephant Grass is cultivated particularly extensively and also has a high energy density. One hectare has the same calorific value as 8,000 litres of heating oil. In Germany, the cultivation of miscanthus has become firmly established over the last ten years as a fast-growing raw material. Currently, approximately 5,500 hectares are given over to its cultivation nationwide and the majority is used to supply heat energy. The good news is that miscanthus provides high yields with minimal use of fertilisers and plant protection products. As a result, the ratio of energy input to energy output is as high as 1:15!

Miscanthus is being scientifically investigated at the campus in a variety of ways. For example, part of the research work involves a newly built and extremely energy-efficient greenhouse that is heated using a 500-kilowatt wood-chip burner. This is filled with miscanthus the researchers have grown themselves and with wood cleared from orchards. In this way, it has been possible to save around 240 tonnes of CO2 per year. In addition, miscanthus is being trialled as a substitute for wood in the production of pellets. Although it cannot replace wood completely due to its fuel properties, such as its high content of ash and silica, in the form of mixed pellets for small-scale furnaces it can expand the range of quality pellets – making energy savings of up to 15 per cent in the process.

The tall grass is also suitable for thermal insulation. Bonn’s scientists have developed an efficient insulating plaster from miscanthus particles and a water-repellent binder, which can be applied using spraying technology. The process has already been patented and has secured around 1.1 million euros in additional funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. 

Alongside miscanthus, the focus is also on other renewable raw materials in Bonn. This includes a study into the use of low-input biomass plants, such as Silphium perfoliatum, sidas or Jerusalem artichoke, as a peat substitute in planting substrates, to reduce the amount of peat extracted in Germany.

Combining science, business and municipalities

The University of Bonn’s engagement on behalf of the environment also extends to the region. In the “Rhineland bio innovation park”, science, business and municipalities have joined forces to collaborate on a concept for a climate-neutral science and industry park. The plan is to meet the power requirements entirely through timber cut and cleared in the region. These are precisely the sort of targets needed for climate protection and the success of the energy revolution.


Photo: Ralf Pude

“Biomass crops should first be used as materials and only used to produce energy at the end of the cascading cycle”.

Professor Ralf Pude, Klein-Altendorf campus, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (University of Bonn)

 



Partners and sponsors


Partners:
  • Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
  • Aussenlabore Agrar, Geodäsie, Ernährung (AGE)
  • Gramoflor GmbH & Co KG
  • Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, IGB-2:Pflanzenwissenschaften
  • DLR Rheinpfalz, Kompetenzzentrum Gartenbau
  • Pusch AG
  • Viessmann Werke GmbH & Co. KG
  • Fachhochschule Köln
Sponsors:
  • Land NRW
  • EU-Förderung
  • Bundesministerium für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft (BmEL)