Wild plants and the energy transition

Posted on 29 July 2019.

Germany, spring 2019, Veolia launched the "Colorful Biomass" project along with two German NGOs. The idea: grow wild plants and produce biomass while preserving local biodiversity.

The goal is to plant 150 hectares of wild plant mixtures by summer 2020, and reach a total of 500 hectares by spring 2024.

Did you know? The no. 1 renewable energy in the European Union is biomass - organic matter coming from the biological waste produced by agriculture, forestry, fishing, and aquaculture as well as biodegradable industrial and municipal waste. The advantage of this resource is that it is carbon neutral and can be converted into fuel - biogas – to produce energy. In short, it’s an effective alternative to fossil fuels which is a key part of the energy transition.
In Europe, a large proportion (66%) of this biomass comes from maize. Of the 2.5 million hectares of maize grown in Germany, almost one million hectares were used for biomass production in 2017.
The problem with this is that the trend towards monoculture damages plant biodiversity and consequently the diversity of animal species which need access to a range of different plants to survive. The issue is so pressing that in Germany the Hunting Association and the Wildlife Foundation have alerted the authorities to the massive loss of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes over recent years.
In partnership with Veolia Stiftung, the Veolia Foundation in Germany, these two associations devised a solution that would tackle the problem: replace corn monoculture with the production of wild perennial plants.
Named "Colorful biomass", the project presents two advantages: wild plants have a very good yield potential for biomass production: up to 45 metric tonnes of fresh mass per hectare can be harvested annually; and these plant mixtures will result in greater biodiversity within the crops themselves including flowers, plants, insects, bird species, rodents, bats and more. A move that will help protect the natural balance and at the same time contribute to biomass production.


Green corridors

The "Colorful Biomass" project will be rolled out by farmers from all over Germany - they will be selected and helped to replace corn production areas with mixed wild plants for biomass production. Operators of biomass facilities will also be involved in the project.
During the transition period, they will all receive the advice and support of experts from the local association Netzwerk Lebensraum Feldflur (bio-corridor habitat preservation network), which advocates the preservation of green corridors - natural spaces necessary for the continuity and life cycles of plant and animal species. The goal is to sow 150 hectares of wild plant mixtures by summer 2020, and reach a total of 500 hectares by spring 2024.