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“You are showing what can be done. You are leading the way. You are better. Today is a good day for the Ennepe-Ruhr district and a good day for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.” Johannes Remmel, NRW Minister for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Consumer Protection, was certainly not sparing in his praise at the official opening ceremony of the new biogas plant in Witten in May 2013. An unusual facility perhaps as the Ruhr region is more well known for coal and other fossil fuels. AHE, a public private partnership between the Ennepe-Ruhr district authorities and REMONDIS, has set an example for the region and beyond with its new state-of-the-art facility that generates biogas from biowaste.
Politicians and councillors working in the district of Ennepe-Ruhr had been thinking about future energy and energy supply long before Fukushima and had been looking at what options their local region had. Minister Remmel believes they have come up with an excellent solution of producing electricity from biowaste, such as discarded food, coffee filters and garden cuttings. “There is still a great deal of potential that can be tapped into in this second use of products and materials, at this link between waste and energy. You have shown how such a link can be used. I very much hope that other districts will take a look and see how it is done here in the Ennepe-Ruhr district and then follow your example. It would be great if they did,” Remmel continued. AHE is also a great example of how advantages can be gained when the public and private sectors work together. It would have been practically impossible to find the necessary funds without this successful cooperation work.
AHE's managing director, Klaus Erlenbach (left), and Norbert Rethmann, honorary chairman of the supervisory board at REMONDIS, showing NRW Environmental Minister Johannes Remmel the compost which is a by-product of the new biogas plant
This facility has, in fact, been accepting biowaste from the households in the district and turning it into electricity since the beginning of 2013. The plant, which involved an investment sum of 15 million euros, was built by AHE on behalf of the district authorities and is now being run by AHE, too. Each year, the facility can process around 25,000 tonnes of biowaste to generate 4.5 million kilowatt hours of energy – the annual requirements of 2,000 households. Another positive aspect of this facility is that it helps to protect the environment by cutting carbon emissions by 4,000 tonnes. Besides electricity, AHE also produces classic composts and liquid fertiliser at its site in Witten. Its target groups here are both locals who enjoy gardening as well as large garden and landscaping businesses. The demand for its products has grown steadily over the first year. The busy “workers” in the digestion plant are millions of bacteria. Specific mixtures of biowaste are fed into the facility to keep the bacteria happy and to ensure the plant is run in the most efficient way. Today, 75 kilograms of biowaste are collected per person per year throughout the Ennepe-Ruhr district – hardly any other district can match this. Despite this fact, however, 30 percent of all biowaste, in particular old food, still ends up in the wrong bin, namely in the residual waste bin. If the local inhabitants slightly changed the way they sorted their waste, then their district would be able to generate even more green electricity.
Biogas, electricity, compost and liquid fertiliser – biowaste is full of potential.