STICHTING BIOMEILER – HEAT FROM COMPOST @ THE WASTED CITY BOOK

“We try to bring all of the information to us and then we share it again to the other people.” - Frank Scholtens

In a truly circular economy, not a single drop of energy should be wasted. However, today we are far from this ideal; throwing away vast mountains of organic waste each year. Tragically, this organic material or biomeiler still holds huge quantities of energy locked inside – energy that can be harnessed to heat our homes and businesses or power up services. In order for this technology to be a viable, large-scale solution for the future, we must experiment and dive into research. This is a key principle of stichting Biomeiler; a volunteer-operated non-profit organization dedicated to sharing knowledge around biomeilers, and assisting in their development throughout the Netherlands. CITIES’ independent researcher Alex Thibadoux went to talk Frank Scholtens co-founder of stichting Biomeiler to find out about the project. Read more about stichting Biomeiler in the seventh article in our Wasted City book interview series below.

TitleSB

Can you explain what your organization does?

We are a point where we can share ideas all about orgnic materials – biomeiler. So, basically, we try to bring all of the information to us and then we share it again to other people. We help people to build biomeilers. We can help them by giving them information, and we can help them by really helping them.

Are you a non-profit organization?

 Yes, we are totally non-profit.

Do you all volunteer your time?

 Yes, it is all volunteer work.

Where did you learn about the technology?

Well, I have a house in Germany. It is sort of a vacation house. For this house, I was putting in a kind of wall heat system. And for that I needed some kind of source for the heat. And since this is a house where I am not always there, I wanted something without fire. And then there were a few options like earthworms and a few other things, but then I ended up seeing a film of Jean Pains, and he made heat out of compost- out of composting wood chips. Then I started looking on the internet what this system was, and then I found out there is a whole group of people in Germany doing this called Native Power. We worked together to realize one at my house in Germany. This all went so good- this is now two years ago- and this pile of heat is still 38 degrees, and we still use it for doing showers and all of that after two years. And then we decided, OK let’s bring this technology to the Netherlands, and then we started this biomeiler foundation.

How many are in your organization?

We have three people.

You and Peter and Arie, did you have an existing relationship?

Peter and I go back until the 70’s. Arie we found while finding people that work with biomeilers. We found the German guys and we found Arie.

©stichting Biomeiler

©stichting Biomeiler

Do you have a collaborative network in the Netherlands? Are you still in touch with the group in Germany?

Yes, as a matter of fact we organized the first international biomeiler conference together with our partners in Germany. People who already owned a biomeiler were invited, and we discussed the whole weekend all the ins and outs, all kinds of research areas, and all kinds of control techniques, maintenance. So that is what we do. We are very international.

How many people are in the network that you have?

The foundation itself is 3 people, and I think around the foundation there are already at least 10 active members.

Have you done a build in Amsterdam?

Yes, we have 4 biomeilers in Amsterdam. There is one called Mycrophyllia, which is a mushroom thing, and there was one in the Fab City, which is now somewhere in the west, in a garden. That was a movable biomeiler.

How did the Fab City mobile unit build go?

It went pretty fine. It is actually still working. It is 50 degrees (C) inside. 45-50 degrees (C) inside.

Is that one of the smallest units that you have built?

Yeah, that is a very small unit. I’m actually amazed.

What are the dimensions of that one?

It was 2.5 meters high, and 1.2 across I think.

©stichting Biomeiler

©stichting Biomeiler

Do you think that is the smallest that will work?

Nah, the problem is if you make them small, the weather influence is very high on them. If it gets cold, these things also tend to get cold. Also, the energy capacity is not that high. A small one is nice for a small house where you do an occasional shower- one time or two times a day shower and some dishwashing or so. It is good for that.

Do you think the biomeiler will always be a specialized, niche technology? Or do you see it growing to be more common?

I see it growing once we figure out a few things. And it is definitely good for bigger places like camp sites, hotels, restaurants, sport accommodations. These places where there is a lot of space and also a lot of heat demand. And also ideally a bit in the countryside so that you can easily get your wood chips.

Have you experimented with different size chips?

Yes, this has all been done already by our German friends. The chip size- we already found some kind of optimum for that.

Are there any other materials besides wood chips that you have experimented with?

There was a Finish guy at our conference. He made a biomeiler with fish. Wood is always the main thing, say two-thirds is wood and then he added fish to it, and he added a lot of coal to it. White coal I think. He added a lot of stuff like that and it worked really well.

Has your approach to sharing all of this information changed since you started?

No, we are still doing it the same way.

Is there anything preventing you from growing your foundation bigger right now?

What do you mean by growing it bigger? Making it commercial or something like that? The problem is, how do you earn money with it?  So you can go on with the education thing. We are mostly interested in researching and experiment. We as a foundation are more interested to step into some big research project. And especially with people that have a lot of so called waste, and see what we can do with it. For instance, if there is lots of manure, what to do with it. Or the sewer system, they also have a lot of biological stuff and the stuff they get out of the waters. It would be interesting for us to build for once, a very big installation and see how that actually functions. Because the biomeiler is not only producing heat, one of the other main things it does is actually producing very high quality compost, which you can use in greenhouses for instance and gardening. And you can improve the soil in general. And another function that is important is that it actually binds the CO2, so all of the CO2 that is actually in the wood, and the other stuff actually doesn’t flow into the air. It actually stays bound, because the pile is not touched for multiple years. This is different than with normal composting. Normal composting, you are constantly turning around the soil. The process goes faster, but the down-side of that is that all of your CO2 goes into the air. So that kind of composting is more like burning. So that is another big advantage of this way of doing it. And the other more interesting thing, there is more research to do, but it turns out biomeilers actually sort of breakdown complex molecules. So if you have all kinds of remains, like drugs and medicines and kinds of things, you can actually use a biomeiler to change these substances into more of their normal elements. But this needs to be researched. There are some claims, but to do it on bigger scales I think. To really find out how it really works.

©stichting Biomeiler

©stichting Biomeiler

Have you been in contact with any cities or universities that are interested in researching?

Yes, but there are not really projects going on at the moment.

Do you know how long the technology has been going on in Germany? 

Probably since beginning of this century, so like 2005 or something like that. There were always people doing biomeilers since the 70’s, but it was on a very small scale. And then YouTube came  with the documentary about Jean Pains, and then it really started everywhere in the world.

What are your next plans coming up with a build?

Next one, in Utrecht we are going to build one. It is going to be a big one. And also in my own house.

What do you think is the biggest limitation of this technology spreading?

The problem always is, how do you get your biomass? That is sometimes hard to get- this stuff. Or sometimes expensive. That is a bit of a problem.

Especially in the city?

Yeah, in the city your problem is more space. You need a lot of space for this. I don’t think this technique is really useful for cities.

Where did the biomass for the mobile unit in Amsterdam come from?

I think the biomass on the Fab City was actually from the city of Amsterdam. We always try to get it as local as possible, so it doesn’t have to travel far.

 

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Created on 11 September 2017

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