Biorefinery, a new model for farmer’s incomes

‘Cows in the meadow in a real Frisian landscape will always be the subject of romanticism’, says Gjalt de Haan, ‘but the dairy farmer as the producer of milk as a sole product might change. In the Northern part of the Netherlands, a lot of biomass is available, which we can use in order to reduce soy cake imports from Southern America. That would have an impact on our economy.’

‘In 1998, I took over my parents’ agricultural supply agency. After some acquisitions, I now work from several locations, Gytsjerk, Grou, Marrum, and Holwerd. I perform agricultural processing under contract, earthworks, agricultural engineering, grass drying, and biogas production. After initial grass pressing tests in Grou, I founded Grassa! (together with Courage), a consortium of small and medium sized enterprises in the Northern part of the Netherlands. Grassa! develops a processing unit for isolation of valuable substances from grass and other protein rich crops. It was a long road.’

Protein rich spring grass
‘The Northern part of the Netherlands grows a lot of grass. In principle, farmers prefer well fertilized and protein rich spring grass for their cows, especially when feedstock prices are on the rise. Autumn grass is of lesser quality. Not because it would contain less proteins, but because wet grass is more difficult to ensile or dry. The protein content is fine, proteins which can be extracted. Fibres from grass can be used in paper and pulp, and in fodder industries. The resulting waste stream is a good feedstock for biogas production. The final waste is the digestate from the biogas fermentation and can be use as a fertilizer, in particular because of its phosphate content.’

‘But for a good business case we need more. Equipment utilization should be raised. There are five grass cuts, from April to October. We should use other protein rich crop side streams, like beet leaves, in order to raise utilization. Cosun and Constantijn Sanders now investigate how to refine and up-cycle beet leaves. In the Cell-ID! consortium (a public-private partnership) we develop a thermochemical process to produce high-quality feedstock for the paper industry from low-protein roadside and park grass.’

A new network
‘The development of a competitive biorefinery process means coupling existing and new processes. Treatment of Northern Dutch grass and leaves may in the near future contribute appreciably to meeting demand for biobased feedstock in a biobased economy. In other words, cattle farmers and meadow owners may be operating in a new network shortly. As would beet farmers.’

‘Fine developments for the Northern part of the Netherlands. Not a single blade of grass will get lost, that is our goal. In the beginning of 2013 we should have a clear view on the feasibility of our business model, and then we should know how to handle and valorise best the different biomass streams in our part of the country through biorefinery and fermentation.’

Courtesy NOM, development agency for the Northern Dutch provinces

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