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Minister gains new insight into agricultural research

Sustainable energy systems and autonomous machines were high on the agenda when the Minister for Higher Education and Science visited AU Foulum.

[Translate to English:] Adjungeret professor Ole Green og lektor René Gislum præsenterede den nyudviklede ”Robotti”, der er en såkaldt selvkørerende redskabsbærer. Foto: Claus Bo Andreasen
[Translate to English:] Adjungeret professor Ole Green og lektor René Gislum præsenterede den nyudviklede ”Robotti”, der er en såkaldt selvkørerende redskabsbærer. Foto: Claus Bo Andreasen

- AU Foulum is a unique research facility where cohesive research can be conducted within the field of circular bioeconomy. This is exceptional, even from an international perspective, and AU Foulum is indeed an extremely important player in the strategy for Science and Technology at Aarhus University. 

These were the words of Dean Niels Christian Nielsen, when Tommy Ahlers, Minister for Higher Education and Science, visited AU Foulum on Monday 12 November.

Furthermore, the dean emphasised that the research facility at Foulum is a massive investment, on the same level as the ESS facility under construction in the city of Lund in southern Sweden . Moreover, it is a unique example of successful relocation of jobs.

The aim of the Minister's visit was to learn more about the centre’s research activities within agriculture, food and green energy; for example, how the development of green technologies can contribute to commercial growth, while at the same time achieving climate and environmental targets.

In this connection, Dean Niels Christian Nielsen and Niels Halberg, the director of DCA,  described the centre’s unique position with regard to providing public sector consultancy, developing new technologies for the agricultural and food sectors and playing a key role in the ST’s strategy related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Wind power becomes natural gas

The Minister could inspect the biogas test facilities at AU Foulum with his own eyes. Lars Ditlev Mørck Ottosen, head of section at the Department of Engineering, gave examples of renewable energy technologies research, including how biogas can form part of a sustainable energy system, together with solar and wind energy and natural gas.

In collaboration with Haldor Topsøe and other companies, the researchers are well on the way to developing a technology which, in popular terms, can turn wind energy into natural gas. The process takes place via biogas facilities and involves converting excess electricity, generated when there are strong winds or low energy consumption, into natural gas, which can then be stored in the natural gas grid. The natural gas grid can store energy equivalent to about three months' consumption, which means that the biogas facilities can help ensure a steady supply of renewable energy.

Minister at the controls

The Minister’s next stop was Foulumgård, an experimental station used for trials within crop cultivation, soil biology, climate-related research and agricultural technology.

At Foulumgård, Professor Ole Green,  and Associate Professor René Gislum from the Department of Agroecology presented the newly developed "Robotti" from the Agrointelli company. Robotti is a so-called autonomous tool carrier and it can be fitted with equipment to "recognise" or "remove" weeds, for example. Consequently, when a weeder has been fitted on Robotti, it can remove weeds in drilled crops.

Robotti will be introduced on the Danish market in a few weeks and it is an excellent example of how collaboration between agricultural science and engineering can produce sustainable and intelligent solutions.

At the same time, the tool carrier is fun to work with; at least, it looked as if the Minister was having fun when he was handed the remote control and allowed to navigate the robot.

Requests for the Minister

The Minister seemed genuinely enthusiastic about his visit, but before he left, the researchers at Foulum had some requests for the Minister to take home with him. For example, the researchers told the Minister that there are insufficient funding opportunities for long-term strategic research. At present, there are good opportunities for basic research funding and funding for projects with companies that have an immediate commercial potential.

However, there is a lack of funding for long-term research in fields that are important to society, for example development of sustainable energy supply systems, where the commercial potential can only be realised in the longer term. 

Further information

Claus Bo Andreasen, senior consultant
DCA - Danish Centre for Food and Agriculture
E-mail: clausbo.andreasen@dca.au.dk
Mobile: +45 4079 8032