Biogas: the logic behind our process is strong as iron, says BioSys Group

‘The Netherlands lag behind in biomass use. Germany, for instance, has more than 3.000 maize fermentation units, the Netherlands just a few. On the other hand, now we have the opportunity to develop new technology.’ Says Jan van den Broek, Biosys Group (formerly Zeasolutions) manager in Assen.

‘Processing maize, we should remove proteins first, which is what we do at ZeaFuels, a subsidiary to our company. We treat the kernel, ferment it using classical fermentation, which produces ethanol and a protein rich side stream. We valorise the side stream, to fodder at first, to more advanced applications in the future. We use the rest of the maize plant, the straw, as a feedstock for the digester to produce biogas.’

Improve the fermentation process
‘In the other subsidiary to our company, ZeaGas, we do research to improve efficiency and sustainability of the biogas process. A biogas fermentation unit often consists of a primary and a secondary unit. The primary unit processes ‘easy’ biomass to biogas. The rest stream is fed to the secondary unit. Many installations require boosters to improve the process in the secondary unit, like food industry’s waste streams. But because of increasing demand, prices of these boosters are on the rise, which poses serious problems to this process. Moreover, under unfavourable conditions the non-digested waste could amount to as much as 20%; if deposited on the land, this could ferment once again and produce greenhouse gas methane. We clearly need other ways to improve secondary units’ processes.’

‘At Zeagas, we chemically treat the primary unit’s digestate in order to render it more reactive. As a result, the secondary unit’s process works much better, and in addition we have a nearly 100% efficiency. We also produce a fertilizer from part of the active nitrogen. We have patented this process, and will market it in the years to come. Changes come slowly, but the logic behind our process is strong as iron, so we are convinced that we can sell it. Our strategy is that we will prove the technology in the Netherlands and then sell it abroad.’

Towards a sustainable rural industry
‘In our sector, subsidies can hamper innovations, too. Look what happens to AVEBE (potato) and Cosun (sugar) side streams. They could be processed into chemicals like ethanol or butanol (innovative process, high quality product), but they are used for biogas production (standard process, lower quality product), because the government subsidises it. Not really a problem, but they could have done better. We could use maize for human food, chemicals or fodder, but because of subsidies, we still use much of it for biogas production with the lowest added value.’

‘Small and medium sized installations have the future in rural development. We estimate that a farmer or a farmer’s cooperative could produce 60% ethanol. This is a storable product which can be kept for transport, and subsequent further processing. Proteins can be sold locally for fodder. Our ZeaFuels process is the first step on the road to such an industry.’

Courtesy NOM, development agency for the Dutch Northern provinces

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