Friday 21st February – Reflections on the 1st week

March 6, 2014

A week into the placement and now we’re starting to get used to the early rising schedule – I’m doing that thing of waking up about five minutes before my alarm goes off. I can’t decide whether this is good or not though. On the one hand it’s nice to be ready for the alarm, rather than have it rip you untimely from a pleasant dream, but on the other it’s five minutes of sleep I’m deprived of and, at the moment particularly, I do like my sleep.

Tim preparing the dry matter tests for the maize silage sampled from different heights of the silage pile

Tim preparing the dry matter tests for the maize silage sampled from different heights of the silage pile

Perhaps in response to mine and Tim’s discussion the day before (no, I’m joking before you get any ideas of sabotage) there was a disruption to the normal routine this morning. Surprised not to see the tractor headlights blaring through the dawn with Thorsten loading the feeders, we walked to the erratic flashlight beams that were emanating from by the side of the fermenter. It seems that the feeder had malfunctioned in the night and the alarm to Thorsten’s phone had brought him out at midnight to try to fix it then. Waiting instead for daylight and a bit of warmth (it’s really pretty chilly here out of the sunshine) it seemed that the screw-feeder had just clogged up with material from the macerator. After raking some of it out and restarting everything seemed to be working again and we went about our morning checks, really noticing the impact the feeder outage had on the fermenter on the amount and composition of gas in the plant and the chemistry of the liquid samples we took.

After breakfast we were given another task. Thorsten’s interest for the batteries it seems is to see whether a solar installation with battery storage would be able to power the pumps on the biogas plant that are running 24/7. To work this out, he has installed electricity counters at several points around the AD site, but has no way of recording them. So, we were given a tour of the monitors (on feeders, gas engines and grid connections) and a schedule to monitor them for. With a bit of spreadsheeting in a couple of days it should be possible to see how the demand for energy varies across the site throughout the day.

Before lunch I got the chance to change the oil and filters on one of the gas engines with Thorsten. Once you know what you’re doing I think it’s pretty straightforward but trying to understand the directions while stood between 300kW and 400kW engines it’s a bit difficult to hear!

Me, refilling the oil in one of the motors after filter and oil change...and at this point not completely covered in oil. Win.

Me, refilling the oil in one of the motors after filter and oil change…and at this point not completely covered in oil. Win.

Lunch today was homemade vegan pizza. A bit of a shock to the system for vegetarian Tim but he said he enjoyed it and it really hit the spot for me. This was also accompanied by another really good soup. Honestly, I could well come back the size of a house! For lunch we were also joined by the electrician who is reprogramming the gas engine control system who was telling us about his friend who had a vegetarian wedding last year. I asked if he knew if the wife had a sister and everyone laughed. I don’t understand why – I was deathly serious!

This afternoon we repeated the analysis but also took samples to be sent to an external lab so that we could compare our results with theirs…this could be interesting when the results come back next week. We spent the afternoon finishing off jobs that had accrued through the week and with me holding a ladder for Christian as he painted the support posts for the engine chimney stacks. My German is picking up a bit now with things from school starting to reawaken and I understood the majority of our conversation, which largely involved him joking with me that if I didn’t hold the ladder properly then everything would be bad and he’d be in the local hospital saying “well ****”. No pressure then as he’s at the top of a six-metre ladder resting against a flue pipe in the wind!

Just before dinner I borrowed some glue in an attempt to try to fix the hangers that broke when we returned in the evening to find my clothes rail had fallen over. In the workshop we found Thorsten rigging up a switching system to overcome the melting of the switch in all his 3-phase switching gear. As we walked back to the annex we’re staying in Tim remarked he really liked the view on the farm that everyone just has a go at fixing the problems they face.

Over dinner while speaking to Christa and learning more and more German we found out Saturday is just another day on the farm, which to tell the truth is pretty much what we’d expected. Sunday is apparently a day off (during which Thorsten and Georg only do their morning duties…that’s a day off?) and we’ll maybe be heading to an old walled city that everyone agreed was very nice.

With dinner finished I’ve just caught up on three days of this dear diary and realised I have a fair amount of corrections to start getting on with soon. Still, there’s always a couple of long train journeys too look forward to getting teeth into them in.

You get very pretty sunsets out here that nicely silhouette big bits of farm machinery like tractors...it's been a great week so far, let's hope it continues!

You get very pretty sunsets out here that nicely silhouette big bits of farm machinery like tractors…it’s been a great week so far, let’s hope it continues!

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One Response to “Friday 21st February – Reflections on the 1st week”

  1. sampickard said

    Reblogged this on Overland to the Far East: A better way to travel ? and commented:

    One week down, one to go. Life on a pig farm in Germany has been pretty great so far – I can’t believe how much I’ve learned and how much there is to do! See this entry for a pic of the lab, me looking gawky and a tractor at sunset…surely one of them will float your boat..?

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