Giant Daisy Seen as Rival for Corn to German Biogas Industry

August 24, 2016 04:00 PM

A giant form of the flowering daisy plant that can grow 10 feet high may become the favored fuel of Germany’s biogas industry.

The plant with small yellow flowers whose Latin name is Silphium Perfoliatum is known as Silphie in German. It’s sometimes called the Cup Plant or Indian Cup in the U.S., where it is native. Field experiments show it has advantages over maize, since it’s a perennial that comes up every year for two decades without replanting.

The industry group representing 9,000 biogas plant owners in Germany said Silphie, which is in the same family as the daisy, has the potential to reduce costs for green energy producers who now use maize. The industry makes gas from renewable sources like plants that can be burned to make electricity.

“Maize is an extremely good resource, but people feel intimated by this big plant -- it doesn’t help the image of the industry,” Andrea Horbelt, spokeswoman for the Biogas federation, said by phone from Freising, which is north of Munich. “Silphie is friendly, hardy, needs no chemical treatment, is ideal for bees. It’s probably as good for power generation.”

The biogas industry in Germany can do with the boost. Sales declined last year to 8.3 billion euros ($9.4 billion) from 8.4 billion in 2014, according to the industry group. Chancellor Angela Merkel this year sought to stop feed in tariffs for the wider biomass industry as a whole, relenting only after protests.

About 150 megawatts of biomass power will be auctioned annually from next year, a quarter of the load on offer for solar and a fraction of the 2,800 megawatts on the bloc for onshore wind.

The biogas industry predicts a slow uptake for Silphie initially, citing the risk aversion of farmers and maize’s foothold in generating green power. Silphie planting has focused on Baden-Wuerttemberg state in Germany’s southwestern corner, where some 480 hectares (1,200 acres) of the crop were sown by this summer.  

With Silphie awaiting wider acceptance, maize will continue to dominate Germany’s biogas production, said Horbelt. Maize contributes as much as two-thirds of Germany’s 4.1 gigawatts of biogas power generation. The industry employs 43,000 and supplies power for 8.3 million homes.

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