Powered by poo: German energy plant makes biogas from manure

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With Russia curbing the flow of its liquefied natural gas to Germany, the country is urgently trying to find new sources of energy to fill the gap before winter arrives.

In the city of Zerbst, around 140 kilometres west of Berlin, a local biogas plant has found a sustainable, albeit smelly energy alternative. 

Every day, it transforms chicken, cow and pig manure into biogas.

Owner Chris Döhring says the output is significant: “Every workday we produce so much gas that it’s the equivalent of a tanker filled with 20,000 litres of oil.”

Germany is in urgent need of natural gas, whatever the source. Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom is only delivering about 20% of the expected gas to Germany, and rumours are circling about possible energy rationing this winter.

This winter, Döhring says his biogas plant will be able to power critical infrastructure in Zerbst, Germany’s fifth largest metropolitan area in terms of surface area.

“With the partner here, the gas network provider and the city, we will be able to continue to heat the hospital, the schools, and other critical infrastructure,” he said.

But experts say while alternative energy solutions like biogas are a worthwhile investment, they aren’t currently producing enough to serve as a short-term solution to the country’s energy crisis.

Long-term, however, biogas is expected to be an important resource for the European Union as a whole, according to energy market analyst Heiko Lohmann.

“The EU has the framework REPowerEU as a concept for how to move away from Russian gas, and biogas is supposed to play a huge role,” Lohmann says. “However, most people I know don’t think that it is fully possible. The plan might not be realisable.”