Scientists from the Thueringian Regional Institute for Agriculture, the German Biomass Research Center, and the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research have concluded that common straw could be used to provide power and heat to millions of homes throughout Germany. The team estimate that out of a total of 30 million tons of cereal straw produced annually in Germany, between 8 and 13 million tons could be used to produce energy or fuel. This would provide 1.7 to 2.8 million average households with electricity and 2.8 to 4.5 million households with heating.
“To our knowledge this is the first time that a study like this has been conducted for an EU country, demonstrating the potential of straw for a truly sustainable energy use, while taking into account the humus balance”, stresses Prof. Daniela Thraen, scientist at the German Biomass Research Center and the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research.
Of course, burning plants for fuel will produce a certain amount of carbon, but the scientists believe that the amount of CO2 produced depends on how the straw is used. They state that using biomass instead of fossil fuels could cut emissions anywhere from 73 to 92 percent.
Germany also has the perfect climate for the use of straw as a semi-permanent fuel source. “Straw should therefore primarily be used in larger district heating stations and/or combined heat and power stations, but technology must be developed for an environmentally friendly utilization”, added Dr. Armin Vetter from the Thueringian Regional Institute for Agriculture.
Denmark is currently the world leader in straw-based energy applications, with a national plan currently producing over 5 billion kilowatt-hours of energy per year.
Images: Caroline Lawrence Photography