Rotting wood turns Austria's poorest town into green model

November 28, 2015 by Nina Lamparski
Workers service a local power line at the town of Guessing, where just 25 years ago was one of the poorest in Austria
Workers service a local power line at the town of Guessing, where just 25 years ago was one of the poorest in Austria

Broke, remote and deprived of jobs—just 25 years ago, the border town of Guessing close to Hungary was one of the poorest in Austria, a forgotten frontier along the Iron Curtain trail.

Yet today, the municipality of 4,000 people has morphed into a global flagship model for , after becoming the first community in the European Union to produce all its heat and power from renewable sources back in 2001.

Latest figures show the town is already 80 percent carbon neutral, a clear frontrunner in the bloc's race for reducing C02 emissions.

"The whole world should become Guessing," enthused Austria's most famous green advocate, Arnold Schwarzenegger, during a visit two years ago.

In many ways, it all began with a "pile of rotting wood", said engineer Reinhold Koch, one of the masterminds behind the dramatic transformation.

While Guessing lacked a motorway and train lines, there was one thing it had in abundance: forests and therefore timber leftovers from logging companies.

"A major reason why we were so poor in the early 1990s was because we spent millions on buying foreign , while wood offcuts were decaying on the ground," Koch told AFP in an interview ahead of crunch climate change talks in Paris.

"I realised that the solution was right in front of our eyes. We could produce our own energy and thereby keep the money here."

This, Koch hoped, would also put an end to the mass exodus Guessing was facing at the time.

Some 70 percent of the region's 27,000 inhabitants were forced to commute to the capital Vienna for work as a consequence of having been cut off from industrial development for several decades.

"I wanted to stop Guessing from dying," said Koch, matter-of-factly.

Digging up the town

The engineer found a willing ear in Guessing's then-mayor, Peter Vadasz, a conservative politician known for his environmental commitment. Together, the pair set about implementing an ambitious green transition plan.

Piles of wooden chips to be processed at the Guessing Energy Technologies research centre in the Austrian town of Guessing
Piles of wooden chips to be processed at the Guessing Energy Technologies research centre in the Austrian town of Guessing

Firstly, all public buildings were thermally insulated and stopped using fossil fuels—a move that would halve local government spending on energy.

Austria's EU accession in 1995 enabled Guessing to obtain subsidies and build a wood burning heating plant.

This proved a crucial first step toward reviving the region's stagnant economy, as Guessing was suddenly able to offer companies attractive deals.

"By producing our own energy, we decentralised power and brought it back to our region," said Vadasz. "My first question to potential new businesses was always: 'How many jobs can you create?'"

But the switch also meant adapting existing infrastructure and convincing locals to abandon fossil fuels.

Authorities began digging up the town's streets one by one.

"If 50 percent living on a street wanted to join, we would lay the pipes in the remaining homes too, in case they wanted to join later—and they eventually did," recalled Vadasz.

"Green energy had a competitive market price and our best publicity was word-of-mouth, neighbours telling other neighbours that they weren't paying more."

From zero to hero

The real breakthrough, however, came in 2001 when Guessing launched a pioneering biomass plant with the help of Viennese scientist Hermann Hofbauer.

The expert had created a system able to produce power by turning wood into a clean gas instead of burning it, thereby strongly reducing CO2 emissions.

Richard Zweiler, manager of the Guessing Energy Technologies research centre in Guessing, Austria
Richard Zweiler, manager of the Guessing Energy Technologies research centre in Guessing, Austria

The innovative technology would not only achieve Guessing's dream of green autarky, but also propelled it to global fame.

"It can produce clean energy in any region in the world, as long as it has natural resources," explained Koch.

Today the giant metal construction, which also serves as a research facility, supplies nearly half of Guessing's heat, with the rest provided by other green sources.

Much of the 's wood comes from Austria's two largest parquet flooring firms which are among 50 new companies to have settled in Guessing in recent years—despite there still not being a motorway or train lines.

The success story also had a knock-on effect, with some 20 power plants now producing renewable energy for the entire region.

The Austrian town of Guessing has morphed into a global flagship model for green energy, after becoming the first community in t
The Austrian town of Guessing has morphed into a global flagship model for green energy, after becoming the first community in the European Union to produce all its heat and power from renewable sources back in 2001

"Experts call Guessing the mecca of renewable energy and say you have to make the pilgrimage at least once in your lifetime to see for yourself that this kind of thing is possible," said Koch, smiling.

Perhaps most importantly, the project has breathed new life into the town.

Where once lay crumbling homes, cafes and shops are now dotted around the historic centre as well as its 12th-century castle on the scenic banks of the Strembach river.

"We even have an international basketball team," said Koch, himself a former player, proudly pointing at a shelf of trophies in his office.

"People need heroes. The money made that possible."

Explore further: Plant making gas from wood opens in Austria

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PhotonX
5 / 5 (7) Nov 28, 2015
There has to be a Koch brothers joke in there somewhere.
.
.
my2cts
3.2 / 5 (11) Nov 28, 2015
"already 80 percent carbon neutral"
That is like being 80% vegetarian.
gkam
3 / 5 (10) Nov 28, 2015
No, it's not, twocents, it a great start. If we all did it, we would have no problem with AGW, perhaps.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Nov 28, 2015
A prime example of "Think Global, act local"...
Altho I doubt the "engineers" of this transformation were being so globally altruistic...:-)
Forestgnome
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2015
There's got to be more to this story, but unfortunately media usually only reports the "bright side" of renewable energy stories. For one thing, the cost of all the improvements was considerable, and benefit only 3500 people. I'm sure they didn't foot very much of that bill. So then how do you scale this up if you need 100 people to pay for the benefit of every one person? It's not mathematically feasible.
gkam
1.7 / 5 (6) Nov 28, 2015
Gnome, why would assume the worst, when you do not know the facts?
Eikka
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 28, 2015
No, it's not, twocents, it a great start. If we all did it, we would have no problem with AGW, perhaps.


Yes, it is.

The first global energy crisis lead to the destruction of nearly all the forests in Europe because pure carbon in the form of charcoal was needed in the manufacture of steel during the industrial revolution. The discovery of a method to bake plain coal into coke essentially saved the world from imminent deforestation.

The problem persists today. Were it not for coal, we would be hacking down every tree for a cheap source of carbon to reduce iron for steel. Fortunately for the town of Guessing, they don't need to manufacture their own steel, or concrete, or glass, or plastics, or fertilizers, or...

It's one thing to run a town of 4,000 on wood chips, and a whole other thing to run an entire society on the same. That's why these "model villages" are essentialy nothing but bluff.
Eikka
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2015
There's a curious history also in the US of how fossil fuels saved the forests.

During the expansion to west, all the railroads were built with wooden ties under the rails, and these had to be continuously replaced every couple years because of rot. The same went on for the railroad bridges, then telegraph poles, lamp-posts, fenceposts, etc.

If you imagine how many ties there are per mile of track, you'll understand the problem. The railroads were consuming absolutely enormous quantities of wood and the expanding US was literally going to be running out - in the sense that they'd literally be chopping all the forests in a few decades if something wasn't done.

So some bright fellow discovered that the coal tar that comes out of distilling coal into coke - creosote - works as a fungicidal agent and makes the logs last a whole lot longer.

Today the sleepers are made out of concrete, which is made of cement, which is made by burning limestone using you know what: coal.
Eikka
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 28, 2015
why would assume the worst, when you do not know the facts?


The fact of the matter is that humanity was running out of natural resources - prior to fossil fuels - when there were less than 1 billion of us.

Now there's 7 billion. 80% of people today are alive because of the surplus of energy afforded by fossil fuels. We've improved in efficiency from the 25% of steam engine era to about 50% of the fuel-cell era, but that means our natural resources can only sustain about 2 billion and the rest are still left wanting.

The prospect of the eventual removal of fossil fuels from the equation isn't just a matter of tightening your belt - it literally means that every other person on earth will die of poverty.

xstos
not rated yet Nov 28, 2015
Soylent green is the answer. https://www.youtu...Vj4l5GU4
Shootist
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 28, 2015
We could have had "green" energy 50 years ago but the leftists courted the neo-Luddites to ensure that fission would never be a viable source of energy in North America.
antigoracle
2 / 5 (4) Nov 28, 2015
it literally means that every other person on earth will die of poverty.

And, if the Chicken Littles believe they are somehow immune then they are truly as ignorant as the cult depends on them being.
If any of them doubt what Eikka is saying, then here is a suggestion. Try living for a month within your quota of CO2 emissions that the Paris agreement will impose.
gkam
2.1 / 5 (7) Nov 28, 2015
" Try living for a month within your quota of CO2 emissions that the Paris agreement will impose."
-----------------------------------------------

Okay. I just bought a pure-electric car. Next week we start the PV installation. My house has been re-insulated, with condensing furnace and instantaneous waterheater using natural gas. I am retired, and do not commute. I'll bet I can do it.
greenonions
4 / 5 (4) Nov 29, 2015
Eikka
The prospect of the eventual removal of fossil fuels from the equation isn't just a matter of tightening your belt - it literally means that every other person on earth will die of poverty.

Can you support that with any data? I assert that over the next 100 years, it will be very possible to transition to a fossil fuel free energy system. We can use wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, tidal, wave, biomass, otec, and probably some new techs that we have not even thought of yet (I am also a supporter of nukes - but think we will have to push the price down a lot for nukes to be cost competitive). There is plenty of data to support this position. Here is just one study on the subject. - http://www.fastco...-by-2050
greenonions
4 / 5 (4) Nov 29, 2015
Sweden has a plan to go fossil fuel free by 2030. My 100 year figure looks extremely pessimistic. 85 years should be enough for the rest of the world to catch on. - http://gas2.org/2...-future/
h20dr
not rated yet Nov 29, 2015
The technology is called gassification. This dude did not invent it. There were cars in the '40's, actually, that burned wood to create a gas that was then burned in a combustion engine. It is and has been studied for decades in numerous applications. The EPA has been the biggest stumbling block to any implementation.
MR166
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 29, 2015
Forrests here in the US are being logged and the timber is being sent to England to provide fuel for their "Green" wood to renewable power plants. I ask you, does this make any ecological sense at all? The same people who are pushing this sort of counterproductive project will brag about saving the earth when they used 100 year old recycled barn wood in their new multi-million dollar home. Turning wood scraps and sawdust into the pellets used for heating makes a lot of sense but cutting a live tree and shipping it across an ocean to be burnt for electrical power does more harm than good.
MR166
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 29, 2015
"http://www.breitb...lyndra/"

More taxpayer funded renewable failures.

Note the following:
"The biggest of those federal loan guarantees is $1.45 billion to build 4 solar plants in California and Arizona, which was issued to Abengoa Yield to build and operate four solar plants that were supposed to produce 1.13 gigawatts of energy, more than a nuclear power plant.

The last plant was completed and went online in December 2014. But the Wall Street Journal reported this summer that although the solar panels were supposedly designed to deliver a million megawatt hours of power annually, the "plant is putting out roughly half that, federal data show.""

So during one of the biggest drought periods in the West there is not enough sunshine to more than 1/2 of the rated output.

How do your spell "Giant Green Fraud"!!!!
MR166
3 / 5 (4) Nov 29, 2015
I could not edit this is should read

So during one of the biggest drought periods in the West there is not enough sunshine to produce more than 1/2 of the rated output.
gkam
2.1 / 5 (7) Nov 29, 2015
I think 166 wants me to go through the list of nuclear plants on which billions were wasted for little or no use.
MR166
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 29, 2015
"I think 166 wants me to go through the list of nuclear plants on which billions were wasted for little or no use."

Again these represent a massive failure of our government. The governments approved these plants and then decided to screw over the rate payers and shareholders ( not the tax payers ) by not allowing them to open.
Roderick
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 29, 2015
Gkam,

How is emitting CO2 by burning biomass 'green'?
greenonions
4 / 5 (4) Nov 30, 2015
Eikka
The prospect of the eventual removal of fossil fuels from the equation isn't just a matter of tightening your belt - it literally means that every other person on earth will die of poverty.


So who are the alarmists? We advocate for a transition to fossil free energy - due to concerns expressed by science community about climate change. Anti renewable folks like Eikka - then make outrageous statements like above. When asked for evidence - silence. Yet here is yet another interesting study - indicating that transitioning to renewables is not only possible - but will likely have a positive economic impact. http://renewecono...ey-60067

Who are the real alarmists?
Eikka
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 30, 2015
it will be very possible to transition to a fossil fuel free energy system.


All the plans I've seen so far have been dependent on some or other type of "unobtainium" that isn't currently available.

I've no doubt that we could make the same amount of energy even by rubbing cat skins to glass rods, but that's not the point. How do you make steel if you don't have carbon? How do you turn wind power into window panes? Or sunshine into cement? Biomatter into blacktop? Nobody's addressing these questions because they're the actual hard ones.

Anti renewable folks like Eikka - then make outrageous statements like above.


I'm not anti-renewable. I'm anti-bullshit. I'm against people who go around telling "everyone should be like X" where X is something that clearly doesn't even address the issues we're facing and would be impossible to implement in the larger scheme of things.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (6) Nov 30, 2015
"How is emitting CO2 by burning biomass 'green'?"
-------------------------------------

We grow biomass, which puts Oxygen into the air. We harvest what was just grown and use it. The CO2 it removed just recently goes back into the air, for the next crop. We do not add to the CO2 in the atmosphere.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Nov 30, 2015
When asked for evidence - silence.


I'm not here patrolling 24/7.

Take for example http://www.eia.go...s/steel/

Steel production in the US consumes 6% of all the energy in manufacturing, and 82% of it comes from fossil fuels - because it's dirt cheap, and because it's needed for chemical processes like iron reduction.

Now, let's remove the fossil fuels and think of how one might go about turning renewable energy into the same thing? Suppose you were to pull CO2 out of the air and reduce it into carbon so you could make steel? How efficient would that be? How much MORE energy do we need?

Suppose you suffer a 75% efficiency penalty - apply that to all manufacturing and you'll see the problem: it's not enough to make the same amount of energy in renewables - you need many times more on the input side to substitute fossil fuels.

That's why the public discourse is on electricity. Electricity we can do - the rest we don't talk about.
Eikka
5 / 5 (3) Nov 30, 2015
Or we could take a look here.

http://www.eia.go...cturing/

Net energy use of electricity in manufacturing is about 13% and the rest is more or less fossil fuels. Why, because a million BTUs of electricity costs the industries about $17 while the same in natural gas, coal, coke, costs between $3-$5 and these same fossil fuels are used as chemical feedstock for production.

It's perfectly obvious that renewable energy production - which basically revolves around producing electricity at 2-3x the price of conventional electricity generation - simply can't touch the economy of fossil fuels in actually making ALL the stuff that we depend and live on in our daily lives. 80% of our food is basically natural gas turned into fertilizers and farmed with diesel; you eat fossil fuels.

That's the question I want answered, because if it isn't then our grand renewable future is just going to be a flop and we're going to kill ourselves with CO2 anyways.

Eikka
5 / 5 (3) Nov 30, 2015
If you understand that concern, it becomes equally obvious why I rail against paying solar energy producers 23 cents per kWh subsidies, or why things like wood chips or algal biodiesel are perfectly inadequate even as partial solutions.

We grow biomass, which puts Oxygen into the air. We harvest what was just grown and use it. The CO2 it removed just recently goes back into the air, for the next crop. We do not add to the CO2 in the atmosphere.


Actually, you do. Normally in nature, the CO2 is produced and picked up locally: plants rot, others grow, whereas in biomass production the CO2 is transmitted up into the atmosphere.

Furthermore, biomass production displaces things like old growth forests which sequester carbon, and by having fast growing energy crops, the CO2 spends less time in the plant and more time in the atmosphere, meaning that there's more CO2 in the air compared to just letting nature grow at its own pace.
Eikka
5 / 5 (3) Nov 30, 2015
Biomass production and use also has the difference in the CO2 cycle that we stockpile biomass and use it in the winter, when the plants aren't growing, whereas natural growth releases and takes up CO2 simultaneously.

So the same amount of CO2 is going around in the system, but we get these concentration pulses happening - warming in the winter, cooling in the summer - which is the same greenhouse gas effect as with fossil fuels.

And besides, 40% of arable land is already in use for other than energy production.
EnviroEquipment_Com
1 / 5 (1) Nov 30, 2015
Obviously, this technology will work where there wasn't plenty of forest area to create the rotting wood used to generate electricity. However, there are always waste products to burn such as old construction material, scrub brush or - as in this case - rotting wood to use as biomass material.
greenonions
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 30, 2015
Eikka
Electricity we can do - the rest we don't talk about.
The report I referenced certainly does talk about 'the rest' http://renewecono...ey-60067

Making stuff requires energy. It does not matter where that energy comes from. We are not saying that we will never dig up another piece of coal, or another barrel of oil. We are saying that it is possible to convert our energy system over to a 100% renewable system - given sufficient time. Perhaps we will have to bridge - with natural gas - using C02 scrubbers. Perhaps we will always use coke to make steel - as other processes are too expensive. We are simply arguing that it is possible - and we should continue on the process that has begun.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (6) Nov 30, 2015
" How do you turn wind power into window panes? "
-----------------------------------

Time to go back to school. Electricity from a wind turbine is no different from electricity from a nuclear plant, a PV system, a hydro station, or a coal plant.
WillieWard
2.8 / 5 (4) Nov 30, 2015
Electricity from a wind turbine is no different from electricity from a nuclear plant
except intermittency, large land areas, natural landscapes ruined, millions birds and bats slaughtered by wind blades.
MR166
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 30, 2015
The green energy movement is all about what could be and not what is. If it were ever to succeed and fulfill all of it's goals of destroying fossil fuels say in the next 10 years the results would be the total devastation of the developed world.

Of course this abject failure will be directly attributable to Bush, The Koch Brothers and Big Oil.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Nov 30, 2015
There's a curious history also in the US of how fossil fuels saved the forests.

During the expansion to west, all the railroads were built with wooden ties under the rails, and these had to be continuously replaced every couple years because of rot. The same went on for the railroad bridges, then telegraph poles, lamp-posts, fenceposts, etc
This is also true with charcoal used in the making of iron and steel. The story goes that there were no trees left in chester county pa as a result.
greenonions
4 / 5 (4) Nov 30, 2015
MR166
If it were ever to succeed and fulfill all of it's goals of destroying fossil fuels say in the next 10 years the results would be the total devastation of the developed world.


Please show us one source that has stated 10 years as the goal to 'destroy fossil fuels'. This Stanford report says that it would be possible to move to 100% renewables by 2050.http://renewecono...ey-60067 This does not imply that fossil fuels will be destroyed, but that our energy system COULD be transitioned over to 100% renewables. We would still probably use coal, oil and gas for manufacturing, plastics, fertilizers, etc.
greenonions
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 30, 2015
Eikka - you still have provided no source for your assertion about people dying of poverty. Do you have a number in terms of the people who will be dying of poverty? Here is your quote -
The prospect of the eventual removal of fossil fuels from the equation isn't just a matter of tightening your belt - it literally means that every other person on earth will die of poverty.

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