20 YEARS of EnviTec Biogas – milestones in the history of our company

We’re celebrating 7,300 days of EnviTec Biogas and letting you share in the milestones achieved by our innovative team: from the adoption of the EEG to our first business trip abroad, and including all of the challenges great and small we have faced over the last two decades. We’d like to thank you, our valued customers, who make this success possible for us – each and every day. Thank you for placing your trust in our team! We’re particularly proud of and thankful for our worldwide EnviTec family: you're simply the best and the cornerstone of our success!


Only two years after the first EEG, EnviTec Biogas gets off the ground. Olaf von Lehmden, Kunibert Ruhe and Tobias Schulz form EnviTec Biogas GmbH with a total of 17 members of staff. The local grid feed-in subsidies for green power, gradually phased in by the EEG since the year 2000, prepare the way for biogas – the green all-rounder. Biogas becomes an attractive source of revenue and EnviTec Biogas begins its success story as a company.

Mayonnaise as an input? Not a great idea. One of our first plant operator customers did use this cold sauce alongside wet manure and nursery green waste, but this then led to a huge increase in hydrogen sulphide. Well, necessity is the mother of invention: our young team decided to add iron chloride into the process and – hey presto, the instrument readings quickly normalised! As an added bonus, the detailed investigations conducted as part of this process meant that we accidentally discovered a cure-all for external desulphurisation that we’re still using today.


Nasty odours? Not in our plants! These results impressed many of our future biogas plant operators, following our development of a mixing method for solids, including the necessary push floor, in an initial 836 kW pilot plant. Consequently, this means we are then able to complete the first biogas plant rated at over 1 MW: this gives us a competitive edge plus valuable experience for our later major projects – like Güstrow.


A plant can only optimise the value chain in the agricultural sector end to end if it keeps running perfectly. This is why we set up our Service portfolio as soon as possible. We’ve kept stocks of parts likely to fail on hand ever since, consigning longer periods of downtime to history. We currently provide biological and technical support services to plants with a total installed capacity of roughly 150 MW and 422 MW, respectively.


The new EEG is adopted, introducing a biomass bonus. No one was really sure what this would amount to, so we offered our customers a right to cancel their contracts if the bonus was set at less than 4 cents. This was an obvious advantage for customers, as EnviTec was able to use the time until the EEG entered into force, and make a start on the project planning and approval phases. When the expected bonus then eventually arrived, the plant construction phase could start immediately. Today, the ‘von Lehmden Planungsbüro’ handles all of the approval planning work and also provides support to our customers for many other applications requiring regulatory permits.

Big, bigger, Anklam: after just two years in business, we added a real flagship project to our portfolio with this biomass energy park – the largest in Europe at the time. This project also brought with it a large influx of new colleagues and a start of construction we’ll never forget: snow in April and the intervention of a monuments authority that decided to comb over the entire site for Bronze Age relics. Today, the 2.7 MW EnviTec plant in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, run as part of our Own Operations, produces roughly 23 mio. KWh of both, heat and electricity every year.


Island debut: the start of construction for the first biogas plant on the North Sea island of Pellworm literally broke new ground for us and our customer, a consortium of island farmers. Not least because this project featured some especially unusual and challenging logistics. Although the ferry, heavily laden with concrete and other materials, narrowly avoided grounding at one point, things were certainly made much simpler by having sand for filling available from the neighbouring mud flats. 

The first operational management contract with a bonus-malus arrangement in EnviTec’s 20-year company history was concluded with an operator from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. This shrewd businessman, who owned a 500 kW plant, took the ambitious step of offering EnviTec a bonus if plant performance could be maintained at no less than 92 percent. If plant output dropped below this level, we would have to pay him compensation (the ‘malus’). He couldn’t have imagined that he would have to pay us several thousand euros in bonuses over a period of just two years. But he was a good sport and bore his losses with composure – but also something of a wry grin on payment day.


Following on from ‘Big, bigger, Anklam’, NawaRo Bioenergie AG awarded us the construction contract for what was then the world’s largest biogas park, boasting a total electrical output of 20 MW, split into 40 standard 500 kW units. Covering the same area as 20 football pitches, the site in Penkun, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, was home to around 200 tradespersons from 30 companies during construction – and we coordinated them all.


In 2006, we packed our bags and headed off to the Netherlands Geographically speaking, our first plant outside Germany was a truly pioneering move. Today we are represented in 16 nations worldwide by our own companies, sales offices, strategic partners and other joint ventures.


‘Deutsche Börse welcomes EnviTec Biogas’: on 12 July, the EnviTec delegation met up outside the stock exchange in Frankfurt. A truly historic day. After a brief bit of posing for the waiting photographers and camera crews, it was off to the trading floor. On this particular morning, the delegation only had eyes for the big board in the room, which duly displayed the first share price for EnviTec Biogas AG, stock symbol ‘ETG’, after only a few minutes of trading. Our loyal shareholders have supported us right up to the present day. We thank you for your confidence in our power to innovate! 

R&D – putting theory into practice. Thanks to our Own Operations, we’ve been doing this since 2007. Alongside construction and maintenance of biogas plants for our customers, we also operate our own biogas plants. In Germany, these now amount to 67 plants with an installed total output of 65.6 MW and we also run 9 plants totalling 10.7 MW abroad. The Own Operations success story, which began with just 1.8 MW, continues to add new chapters every year. 


Three is a magic number. Alongside the major projects in Anklam and Penkun, another gigantic undertaking was added to our well-filled order books in 2008: Güstrow. This was the site of the world’s largest plant for biogas upgrading to natural gas quality. Following its completion, the BioEnergie Park comprised six modules of 1,667 cubic metres in size – the equivalent of 3.5 MW of output in each case. As a result of our purchase, Güstrow is now one of the plants run by EnviTec’s Own Operations. Following extensive conversion work, the largest biogas plant built in Germany to date will supply significant quantities of purified bio LNG for greener heavy goods traffic from early 2023.

Thanks to record orders on hand, there was really only one thing for the EnviTec team to do in 2008: get packing! Which was how our team managed to complete the first plant in Czech Republic. EnviTec was also the first company to deploy the organic Rankine cycle (ORC) process here, which converts waste heat into power, so as to increase energy yields by a further 15 percent. Beneficiaries of this waste heat-to-power to date include a kindergarten and a school, who are supplied with district heat from the 500 kW plant in the Czech city of Lipa.


Every year, an international jury of technical editors from the German agricultural trade journal DLV honours the sector’s best innovations with its ‘Machine of the Year’ award – and this year, EnviTec’s FeedControl is a winner. Our sophisticated sensor and control system adjusts feeding intervals variably to match the biogas quantities required. The output control system adjusts feeding to ensure that the CHP unit can operate continuously at its highest performance level. This means plant operators can operate their CHP unit permanently at maximum output while simultaneously reducing their acreages by up to 10 percent. 

And EnviTec continues to grow: by 2009, we have already completed seven biogas plants with a total connected electrical load of 12.6 MW, which include an industrial biogas plant directly adjacent to the L’Oréal production facilities in Libramont. This biogas plant meets all of the L’Oréal plant’s heating needs while feeding excess energy for around 4,000 households into the public grid. And EnviTec is also impressing Italy with its plant technology: just four years after entering the market, EnviTec is now one of the top five system suppliers in Italy. Che successo!


The new decade is ushered in by partings and new beginnings: as co-founder Kunibert Ruhe steps down from the company, we welcome engineer Jürgen Tenbrink as our new CTO. EnviTec also rockets past the 200 MW milestone in terms of overall installed electrical output – a truly inspirational achievement!


For our customers in the food industry, ‘from waste to energy’ is becoming an important topic. Organic residues (biowastes) are an outstanding option as substrates for biogas production. This not only reduces the total volume of waste: the procedure also reduces the overall costs of production while protecting the environment. The first EnviTec plant operated exclusively on food waste is commissioned from us by our customer Premier Foods in Wales. Completed in 2010, the plant supplied around 10 percent of the power that the factory needed for its food production.


Welcome to the boom year! So far in the year 2011, our company posts the highest revenue figures in its history. And there’s plenty more going on: the energy market is undergoing radical change and we’re there at the outset with our new business unit ‘Energy’. Above all, we’re aiming to give our customers more options for their energy marketing, while working on the drafting and implementation of tailor-made generation plans, and taking on all of the customer’s operational risk, including financing. This is the first time we’ve been able to offer the entire value chain from ‘renewable to radiator’ – a business model that the German Energy Agency (dena) honours in the following year as ‘Biogas Product of the Year 2012’.


High, higher, HighGester – the shiny new digester from EnviTec’s Innovation Lab doesn’t just look good but also improves the production process for biogas. Seems pretty simple, even when it isn’t. The familiar components used for decades, namely the prefabricated tank and flexible roof, have been adjusted to match fermentation requirements and continuously improved. The centrepiece of this is the HighGester, which is characterised by offering three times as much volumetric loading plus extreme process stability. And it’s not just in digestion where the EnviTec team is incredibly innovative: in 2011, EnviTec’s own FeedControl process receives another accolade in the shape of the Innovation Prize from the German region of Münsterland. Bravo!


Ground-breaking tech for the next decade: with EnviThan, we enter the gas upgrading 2.0 era – these modern, hollow-fibre membranes from Evonik Industries are especially efficient at purifying the raw biogas generated in biogas plants. This high-purity biomethane can then be fed directly into the natural gas grid. Nor is this only good for the environment: plant operators also benefit financially, thanks to the recently amended EEG for upgraded biogas. And the innovation is clearly popular with the market: since completing our EnviThan pilot plant in Sachsendorf in 2012, we have constructed a total of 60 EnviThan plants worldwide and we also won the German Agricultural Innovation Prize in the launch year!  

Just in time for our 10th anniversary celebrations, our total electrical load connected to the grid breaks through the 300 MW barrier – and we also make an initial foray into the US market. Donald Jensen, owner of Lawnhurst Farm in the state of New York, is impressed by our expertise. His 541 kW biogas plant is still in operation today, with its primary inputs being feed waste, wet dairy cow manure and grease/fat residues from his agricultural operations.

Still with us? Excellent!

We’ll be publishing the next milestones, from 2013 to 2022, very shortly.