Pig farmer Pietro no longer runs his farm alone either. His son Andrea works for him. Together, they have expanded the business enormously in recent years. “We started with 18 cows and two pigs; now we only have pigs because we earn more money from them.” Father and son are proud of one thing in particular. They were the first farmers in the region of Cremona to install a biogas plant. That was three years ago. Since then, they have been generating a constant 250 kilowatts of electrical energy using an mtu
Onsite Energy Series 400 engine. They feed the electricity into the national power grid. The Italian government pays them 28 cents a kilowatt-hour – more than any other country on Earth. And with the heat recovered from the engine, they produce hot water for heating the pig pens in the winter. The biogas is made just a few meters away from the pens. In a large, green digester tank, maize slurry and glycerine is fermented.
The local government of the province of Lombardy backed the farmers’ courage in making the investment by paying the interest on a loan of one million euro. Pietro and his son aim to have completely repaid the loan in ten years‘ time. Meanwhile however, they have already taken out a second loan, because a few months ago they started up a second biogas plant driven by a twelve-cylinder mtu Onsite Energy engine. The new plant also produces 250 kilowatts of electrical output. The advantage is that if one of the plants fails, the other can be stepped up to 370 kilowatts output. Consequently, the potential risks of failure are low because none of the valuable biogas is lost.
High-tech on the farm
The biogas plants have also changed the nature of their work. It is no longer just a matter of growing the food for the pigs and rearing them. They now also grow maize for producing biogas. The slurry from the pigs is now used not only as fertilizer on the fields but also in biogas production. Filling the digesters with maize, slurry and glycerine, measuring the temperature in the digester tanks and checking the engine data have all become an established part of their daily routine. Even though the farmstead with its gray brick buildings might not look like it from the outside, this place is full of high-tech kit. And Pietro and Andrea are more like firemen than farmers. “Most of it actually runs automatically. We only have to react if something is wrong,” Andrea relates. If they are worried about the figures from the biogas plant, they call their customer service engineer at mtu
Italia. Alessandro Maiocchi can check the engine data, alter settings or send servicing instructions remotely via a special data link. “Working with Alessandro has been fantastic. He knows the system really well and has already given us lots of good tips,” Pietro enthuses.