It seems biofuels are old hat in Germany.

A lot of the interest at DLG-Feldtage, the German equivalent of Cereals, surrounded the booming biogas industry.

And biogas appeared to have potential to allow crops to be more than just commodity products.

Made from all kinds of agricultural products, including manure, there was increasing interest in growing crops, such as maize and wheat, for biogas.

The crop is converted by anaerobic fermentation into methane, in a five-step process, and then can be used to generate combined heat and power.

Biogas had boomed in Germany in the past year, according to Mark Paterson from the German government renewable resource agency Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe.

“The German Renewable Energies Act has made it more interesting for farmers to invest in biogas plants.”

Updated in 2004, after being implemented in 2001, the German Renewable Energies Act meant farmers could get paid for producing energy for the National Grid.

The payment structure was complicated, Mr Paterson said.

“But essentially you get paid for the electricity produced – around €0.10/kW/hr for a 500KW plant – and there are bonuses of €0.06/kW/hr if only renewable sources are used.”

The legislation meant the pricing structure was set for 20 years, Reinhard Rossberg, project manager for the German Agricultural Society DLG, added.

“Investing in a biogas plant is a big decision.

The average investment for a 500kW plant is €1.5m, so you need that guarantee of prices.”

But the investment should be worthwhile, he believed.

“Under current conditions farmers should be choosing biogas and having the chance to sell the energy.

With ethanol and biodiesel production they are nothing but mere producers of a commodity.”

Farmers were investing more in biogas, NK Seeds maize product manager Friedbert Horstmann agreed.

“Long-term I expect biogas to be put straight into the gas pipeline.

If we reach a certain gas price in Europe it will happen.”

Last year around 100,000ha of crops were grown for biogas, he noted.

“I expect that to quadruple in Germany.”

mike.abram@rbi.co.uk