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Iceland Finds New Power in Farms

REYKJAVIC, Apr 24 2012 (IPS) - “With the fuel from the agriculture project, we are encouraging farmers to look at possibilities they might have to produce their own energy, while at the same time getting the Agricultural University and Farmers’ Association to work towards supporting and encouraging the farmers,” says Haraldur Benediktsson, chair of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association about the campaign to reduce energy bought by farmers by 20 percent by 2015 and 80 percent by 2020.

Benediktsson continues: “The project is not fully developed yet, but basically there are three main factors involved. First, to utilise better the energy that farmers currently buy: saving energy in farming practices and increasing energy efficiency. Secondly, to analyse the possibilities for energy production on farms, whether in the form of methane, wind energy, hydropower or biomass, and to hold courses on subjects such as understanding the methane production process.”

Farmers have shown considerable interest in the latter. Innovation Centre Iceland (ICI) has organised courses that they called Energy Farmer. These courses “may possibly start up again, even later this year, as there was so much interest in the subject,” says Ardis Armannsdottir from ICI.

“The third factor is to define and evaluate how quickly Icelandic agriculture can become self-sufficient in energy,” Benediktsson tells IPS, adding: “Several small projects have been started, such as preparations for advice on saving energy, creating teaching material for the AU and continuing education on methane production.”

It seems there is no lack of enthusiasm for small-scale energy production in Iceland. A number of individuals and companies have grand plans on how to make Iceland self-sufficient in energy. One of these is a chemist and former teacher Thorbjorn A. Fridriksson.

“Icelanders can produce all the oil and gas they need by ecological means. We have vast areas of land in the south that could easily be planted with grass species which could then be transformed into biomass for energy, while as a backup Iceland has enough peat reserves to last for many years,” says Fridriksson. “But it won’t be economical until a certain volume of production has been reached.”

In a little shed by his house in South Iceland, Fridriksson has set up processing equipment in which he transforms straw from a neighbouring farmer into tar, fuel oil, gas and other materials.

“The technology is well known and has been used for decades. We don’t need to spend large sums of money in research,” Friðriksson tells IPS.

He says the process is based on hydrogenation of biomass. This technology has been known for a century and was used extensively in Germany during the Second World War, but after that its use dwindled.

“First of all one has to collect the grass or other similar material, prepare it, clean it and so forth, then produce diesel, fuel oil and maybe petrol out of it by injecting hydrogen at high temperature and pressure into the biomass. Maybe just 200 litres a day will result to begin with; it is really only a prototype. This would be part of an RD&D (Research, Development and Demonstration) plan for full-scale production lines,” Fridriksson explains.

“One needs to produce 2,500 tonnes a day,” he adds. “This will need two million tonnes of biomass and will be able to compete with petrochemical products as long as the price of a barrel of oil does not fall under 60 dollars. The resulting fuel will be enough to fuel all Iceland’s vehicles, construction equipment, boats and aeroplanes.”

Although most houses in Iceland are heated geothermally and all of the country’s electricity comes from geothermal or hydroelectric sources, when fuel for cars, boats and planes are included the proportion of renewable energy in Iceland is 67 percent.

The government wants to increase this percentage by encouraging use of alternative fuel sources for the transport sector. Eco-friendly fuels currently power only 0.6 percent of cars, the majority of these being methane-fuelled.

Metanorka, a company whose name translates as Methane Energy, has recently received a grant to map where sufficient organic waste is available to stand under methane production.

“Another side of this grant is to reduce the initial and operating costs of micro biogas plants, which will mean that methane production will be economically feasible in a number of places in the country,” says Dofri Hermannsson, managing director of the company. “We have also received a grant from the Roads Administration to calculate the economic and environmental impact of producing and using methane gas in cars in rural areas.”

Independent of any grants, the company intends to build a medium-sized methane plant next year about 50 km from Reykjavik, in collaboration with a large pig producer and a refuse-collecting company.

Iceland’s Agricultural University has its main campus at Hvanneyri, 48 km north of Reykjavik, but has outposts in Reykjavik and the village Hveragerdi, 45 km east of the capital. The staff use methane-fuelled vehicles when travelling between the locations, fuelling in Reykjavik at one of the few methane-filling stations in the country.

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