Anaerobic Digestion helps wet pasture biodiversity

I’ve just returned from Austria, visiting friends and family, and also some remarkable renewable energy projects, including the small town of Gussing. In October last year I wrote a blog about Gussing. It has won lots of awards for innovation and ecological sustainability. It is one of the few places in the world that truly has entered the post fossil fuel age and so affords a glimpse of a green future.

(Gussing Anaerobic Digester)
So what does a green economy look like? One commonly held view in England is that a green economy will look older fashioned, rather quaint, somewhat poorer and with people using simple low level technologies; the ‘bananas environmentalism’ approach. (Bananas meaning Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) Gussing is in some ways the polar opposite of this. A small historic town of 4,000 people, comparable to Kington in a Herefordshire context, has built a huge and growing industrial park and created 1,100 new high quality jobs, transforming the area from one of economic decline and out-migration to a boom town and employment hub. It has turned a 6 million Euro outflow of money formally spent on fossil fuels to a locally circulating annual turnover of 15 Million Euros spent on locally generated renewable energy. Again confounding stereotypes there are remarkably few solar panels and virtually no wind turbines. This is an economy based on biomass, primarily on wood chip gasification and the anaerobic digestion of grass.

One of the most impressive things was how they have evolved ever greater ecological sustainability with their changing uses of anaerobic digestion. Formally they used a lot of maize, but as this used energy to cultivate they have shifted to grass. Lowland wet permanent pasture is managed to maximise biodiversity, full of wonderful wildflowers and healthy grasshopper populations providing a vital food source for a growing stork population, while also being regularly cut for biomass digestion. These meadows were a joy to any ecologist! Renewable energy and enhanced biodiversity rolled into one!