Biogas: successfully handling documentation and inspection obligations
Biogas is classified as a hazardous substance. There are a large number of regulations which biogas plant operators must always bear in mind. Jörg Friehe of Terravis GmbH, a subsidiary of AGRAVIS, is a plant safety expert,and offers businesses documentation and inspection support.
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- Plant operator Nabers and consultant Friehe take a look at the plant.
The Nabers family from Ahaus-Alstätte, in the North-Rhine Westphalia district of Borken, have been operating a biogas plant since 2009. The plant is fed with 20 tonnes of renewable raw materials such as corn, catch crops and whole plant silage, as well as manure from the family's pig fattening farm. Starting with 180 kW, a 1200 m3 fermenter and a 3400 m3 fermentation residue store, the farmer expanded the plant in 2013 with a fermenter spanning 1500 m3, a 2700 m3 secondary fermenter, and a further 500 kW motor.
Two dual fuel engines bring the plant to a running performance of 8660 to 8700 hours per year out of a possible 8760. "That is a capacity of 99%," states Stefan Nabers, who manages the plant. "But high reliability is vital for the economics of the plant and, of course, for our customers as well." In addition to the electricity fed into the grid, the exhaust heat of the motors is available for both the Nabers' farm and two other farms, an industrial company and ten homes via a thermal network.
Growing documentation requirements
Much has changed for the Nabers since the beginnings of the plant in 2009: "The file folders with documents and certificates have steadily grown – certainly more than the plant," smiles the 46-year-old. "Each built-in part has to have a certificate. There's also daily documents like input material log books, maintenance check jobs, pest control and much more. Not to forget a wide variety of checklists for hazard response plans, emergency measures and measures for breakdowns, just to name a few examples. Therefore, the files have to be maintained constantly. "Six to seven authorities are generally involved in authorisations, such as the lower water authorities and the immission control authorities. The plant also has to be inspected by environmental experts, who check to see if the requirements of the Renewable Energy Act have been complied with and the appropriate proof of payment claims exist. The intervals between individual inspections vary from yearly to every three or every five years.
Support relieves the plant manager
"There's a lot to be taken into consideration," Nabers has learned from experience over the years. Because of the extent of the documentation and inspection obligations, he asked Terravis for help. Jörg Friehe, Terravis' plant safety consultant, recently prepared for the first inspection by authorities under his responsibility – an environmental inspection by the Borken rural district authorities – together with the farmer. "Plant safety is and always will be top priority, and that means operators have to get to grips with the complex subject of plant safety," Friehe explains. "However, it doesn't mean that the operator has to prepare all the inspections and documents alone and that he has to know every single detail that is important in the preparation." Nabers adds, "I'm still in charge of a lot of things. However, in the meantime, documentation and evidence obligations had become so extensive that support was definitely needed. For me, this service means making my job easier, and being secure in the knowledge that the required documents have been completed and the inspection will go smoothly. Also, our plant is checked by someone with an outsider perspective, which can be really helpful."
An easy collaboration
Before the inspection, Stefan Nabers and Jörg Friehe went through all the documents and took a look at the plant together. The expert provided a few handy tips, such as securing stairs using chains or putting up more warning signs. "It's not always the big steps, but the little improvements as well, which ensure that the inspection goes without a hitch and the need for improvements," Friehe states.
Nabers is glad to have expert support: "We've invested a lot of money in the plant, and even if there are more and more requirements – there's no turning back. Therefore, these services involving plant safety are becoming increasingly important for us as business owners."