I believe in what I do
Could you describe the Persina protected area and how your project helps to solve its problems?The Persina Nature Park is located 50 km from my village. The area is composed mostly of wetlands and riparian forests. The natural processes in Persina have been disturbed by human constructions alongside the Danube. This has stopped the natural mechanisms of biomass cycles and resulted in overgrowing of reeds. If uncut, the biomass is a problem for the ecosystem. They need to be taken out in order to let the wetlands survive. Our idea is to propose an efficient way to cut them. We propose to use the waste materials from the wetlands in order to produce something that could be useful. We want to produce biomass pellets and briquettes for heating, which will be sold in the area around the village.
How did you get involved in biomass energy production?I was impressed by this topic during my studies. I focused on biomass energy produced out of waste materials from agriculture and wetlands. The topic of my master thesis was “Opportunities for using and applying biomass from agriculture and wetlands for producing pellets and briquettes”.
How did you meet WWF and how did your collaboration start?WWF helped me a lot, and we work together. I visited a seminar in Pleven on this topic at the beginning of 2012. At this time I was already thinking about using the biomass from agriculture, and this was quite interesting for me. WWF showed me a lot of opportunities. After this meeting, it all happened quite naturally. I wanted to get involved and to start working on this. Together with the WWF Bulgaria crew, we were thinking about how to get public funds for financing this project. We managed to do so after two years. Now, we are all set.
Where are you at now with project implementation?At the end of 2013, a few months ago, we bought and installed the equipment: 2 machines for producing both pellets and briquettes. We have made some tests. Due to the warm autumn and winter this last year, we did not manage to get the biomass out of the marsh. However, we had some biomass left from previous years. We are using it for testing and calibrating the machines.
How come you were not able to harvest this year?It was not cold enough this year to harvest. As we use agricultural machines to harvest the reed, we can only access the marsh when it is frozen for a sufficient period of time, so that the ground is solid. Otherwise the machines could get stuck in the marsh while harvesting.
Do you plan to rely only on the Persina marsh reeds or are you going to use other biomass to produce the pellets and the briquettes?My original idea was to start with agricultural waste. As we are an agricultural area, that is a real option. We do not have any forests. We have wheat, corn, sunflower and other fields. My plan is to use such material and to mix it with the reed biomass. We will assess which mix offers the best production opportunities in terms of energy efficiency and marketing of the product. Our tests have shown that it is possible to provide an efficient alternative to the classic wooden pellets and briquettes.
Why will you produce both pellets and briquettes?Pellets require specific equipment to use them. The pellet burners are not that affordable for most people in Bulgaria. So I have decided that I need to produce briquettes which can be burned in any kind of heater. By doing this, we can reach more people in the area.
Will you sell your products in the whole of Bulgaria?Our idea is to sell as close in the region as possible. In the village, in the neighboring villages or at the municipality town. Not more than 50 km away from the production site.
Do you consider local institutions as potential customers of biomass pellets and briquettes?Indeed, there are some institutions, like schools and kindergartens, which are my target group for the pellets.
What do you think about WWF’s Danube PES project?It is necessary that we start doing such projects in order to begin assessing the value of nature. We need to think of how we can make business by helping nature, or help nature by our business. Because whatever it gives us, we need to give back, right? Whatever this means. In my case, it is taking the biomass. In other cases, it is taking other things. I think we need to work on this task.
Starting a green business in a small Bulgarian village is not an easy task. Is this commitment related to a personal ethic?Yes, you may say so. You know, everyone has got their point of view, for future development, for themselves and people around them, for his country and the whole world. So, basically I believe in what I am doing!
What is the way forward for the PES project?We have the potential to scale it up to other places in Bulgaria and to other countries in the area. This could multiply the impact of our project.
Interview by Milan Jousten