April 19, 2023 at 5:19 p.m.

EDA in Denmark

EDA in Denmark
EDA in Denmark

By Ben Sonnek- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Leach, Marthaler tour Nature Energy biogas facilities

As members of the Sauk Centre Economic and Development Authority, Heidi Leach and Jean Marthaler are usually visiting areas in or around Sauk Centre. At the end of March, though, they traveled farther when Nature Energy, a Denmark-based energy company, flew them out to Denmark to tour their biogas facilities, one of which they are interested in placing in Sauk Centre.

“This is not a typical opportunity for most EDAs,” Leach said.

Leach has been a member of the EDA since 2019, while Marthaler has been a member since 2010.

“In 13 years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Marthaler said.

The EDA initially met with Nature Energy representatives during their regular meeting Dec. 7, 2022. It was mostly an informal meeting to introduce Nature Energy to the area. In early March, they reached out again to offer a trip to tour their Denmark facilities at the end of the month.

Other Minnesota communities that had been contacted by Nature Energy for this opportunity included Freeport, Luverne, Paynesville, St. James and Winona County. Benson is already in the permitting stage with Nature Energy; the town used to have a turkey manure biofuel plant which was demolished in 2019.

Nature Energy is looking to establish a hub-and-spoke system of plants in the area.

“If they have one here, one in Freeport, one in Paynesville and one in Benson, that’s four within a one-hour drive from Sauk Centre, roughly,” Marthaler said. “Then, they can cross-utilize personnel, so their biochemist can cover four plants, which is probably more financially stable than trying to have one at each place.”

Leach and Marthaler flew out of Minnesota March 26, landing in Copenhagen, Denmark, the next day. Some Minnesota weather followed them there.

“It snowed the first night, and they don’t get snow very often,” Leach said.

The morning of March 28, they started their four-day agenda taking a bus to the Nature Energy headquarters in Odense, getting to see many of the country’s islands while on the way. They were given a presentation at the headquarters, telling them how 30% of Denmark’s energy is derived from biofuels and how they plan to be 100% dependent on natural energy resources within the next seven years.

Leach and Marthaler also met with Nature Energy’s research and development department and received a tour of the laboratory.

The next day, the group was scheduled to go to the Nature Energy Glansager facility, but because of a traffic accident on the highway, they made a last-minute switch and went to a different plant in Holsted.

“It ended up being a good switch because the facility we got to see first was undergoing some fixes,” Leach said. “They had a breakdown of some of the technology on site, but they also utilized the fact they had a breakdown to do some routine maintenance. (Their) ‘smell test’ allowed us to see what it would smell like in the off chance they’re doing maintenance or have doors open to facilities that contain the smell.”

Leach and Marthaler, though, did not find the open facility to be off-putting. They didn’t smell anything until they were off the bus and in the parking lot.

“If you were 100 feet away from it, I don’t think you would’ve smelled it,” Marthaler said. “If you were offsite, you wouldn’t have smelled it; you had to be close enough. They’re very contained.”

At the plant, they learned how they use heat to kill the manure’s weed seeds and bacteria, and when they return the product to the farmer, it is weed seed-free and enhanced with nitrates, phosphates or whatever else they may need in their soil.

“Everything they did was very efficient,” Marthaler said. “They use the heat from the freshly dropped-off manure to heat up what was already there and kill off the seeds.”

Leach and Marthaler know in the Glansager facility they were originally going to see that day, they also extract carbon dioxide from the manure along with the natural gas, and the carbon dioxide then goes into carbonated beverages.

“They’re constantly refining what they can pull from this manure and still have a usable product to give back to the farmer,” Marthaler said.

The group later went to a dairy farm that is working on joining Nature Energy. They were shown the bedding straw the farm uses for cattle, which soaks up materials better than other bedding.

“To supply to Nature Energy, you need to be bedding with sand or straw,” Leach said. “If you bed with sand, you will need a sand separator.”

In the afternoon – after lunch at the 750-year-old Koldinghus Castle in Kolding – the group toured a hog farm to see its manure collection technology.

“Hog manure is more liquid, so it takes a different process than cow manure,” Leach said. “They’d be looking at cow manure in Minnesota, not the hog manure.”

On March 30, they visited Mansson Biogas, which adds organic digestate back into manure after the gas has been extracted so farmers can have custom fertilizers. Some of the digestate comes from vegetation and food scraps the plant receives.

“One thing they used that I thought was funny was molasses,” Marthaler said. “Over here, it’s not so much in abundance, but over there, they’ll use it as another additive.”

They later visited an 800-cow dairy farm, which utilized a sand separator to extract manure.

“(Our guide) used his hands and picked up the sand,” Leach said. “You could put it on a beach. It was clean as could be, but it’s also useful to the farmer because it keeps them from needing truckloads of new bedding.”

The last day was the group’s fun day. They were driven back to Copenhagen to see the Nyhavn Canal, where Hans Christian Andersen lived for 20 years; the micronation of Freetown Christiania; the Church of Our Savior and the 400 steps up its spire; the changing of the guard at Amalienborg, the royal family’s residence; and Tivoli, the third oldest amusement park in the world, on their first day open that year. Leach and Marthaler stayed a few more days to take in the city before flying home April 4.

Before leaving, Leach and Marthaler also spent some of their off time asking local residents about Nature Energy’s operations.

“I was over there trying to find something wrong with this concept,” Marthaler said. “Unanimously, it was all positive feedback.”


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