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Germans in Morris?

This article was originally published by the Stevens County Times


You read that headline correctly. This summer Morris has hosted 3 interns from Germany. These interns, from the Munster University of Applied Sciences are here conducting research on green technologies and clean energy. But aside from the obvious benefits of studying renewable energy in a place like Morris, why are these German interns here? How does their presence relate to the larger themes of community resilience, energy efficiency and clean energy? And, perhaps most importantly, what are three Germans favorite thing about Morris?

The interns, and Morris, are a part of a partnership which connects cities and municipalities in Minnesota and Germany. The partnership calls themselves the Climate Smart Municipalities or CSM for short. Morris is partnered with a city known as Saerbeck. Like Morris, Saerbeck is a smaller community of around 8,000 people. The town is also centered in an agribusiness centric area. In 2009 the community of Saerbeck embarked on a project that would put their small town on the map. The Bioenergy Park, located on the former site of a munitions base, was meant to provide renewable and clean energy to the community. The park, which now produces four times more energy than the city needs, can now ensure a clean energy future for Saerbeck. One of the clearest benefits of this can be seen in real time across Europe right now. As the Russia-Ukraine conflict affects the price of energy around the world, Europe and especially Germany, is feeling the squeeze that the EU has put on Russian gas imports. A city like saerbeck is safeguarded from the skyrocketing price of energy. In fact, they are in a position to sell their excess clean energy to surrounding communities, building local wealth and resilience while also safeguarding its citizens from heightened energy costs.

Interns from across Germany have come to Minnesota as a part of the CSM partnership. German interns are also conducting research in St. Cloud, Rochester, St. Paul, and Duluth. The three interns that are spending their time in Morris this summer are Michael, Thilo, and Mara. All three interns have studied or are studying at the University of Applied Sciences in Munster.

Michael, who has a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental engineering. He is from Münster, North Rhine-Westphalia. He is conducting research for his Master of Science in Hydrology, has spent his time in Morris conducting research on our new Water Treatment Facility. He is working on a report which seeks to explain the operational attributes of the new plant and how the new plant is better for the environment and our local watershed. Prior to this new water plant being built, water softening was taking place at the residential level and contributing to dangerous levels of chloride in the PDT river. The new plant centralizes water softening to the point of water extraction from the water table. The key findings from the report seek to quantify the effect of the water treatment plant on the chloride and salt levels in the PDT. Michaels favorite thing about Morris is that the beer in the liquor store is literally cooled by the sun.

Thilo, who is currently finishing his Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering is interning at the West Central Research and Outreach Center. He is from a city called Gütersloh in North Rhine-Westphalia. The project he is working on is about the use of green ammonia microgrid systems that could be used to continue powering critical infrastructure like the Morris water treatment and wastewater treatment plant even in the case of a power outage. In addition to resistance to severe weather, the use of green ammonia power generation offers greater sustainability and independence from the fluctuating fossil fuel market. Earlier this year when we had a high wind event, our entire county lost power. The green ammonia microgrid system, that includes renewable power generation and battery energy storage would remain operational even in such an event. Thilo’s favorite thing about Morris has been working with so many other clean energy and energy efficiency professionals. He has also enjoyed seeing the cultural and technological differences between the US and Germany.

Mara, who is also currently finishing her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering, is researching a safer ammonia storage technology. She is from Immenstadt, Bavaria, Germany. At the West Central Research and Outreach Center, wind energy is already being used to produce green ammonia and they have recently received a grant to make the plant bigger. The ammonia that is produced there is sold to the Co-Op for local farmers to use on their fields. However, ammonia is known for its hazardous properties and in the event of a leak of the storage tank is a certain risk for people and the environment. Therefore, Mara is researching if the absorption-based storage technology can be considered ultra-safe. This technique of storing ammonia would bind the ammonia to salts such as magnesium chloride. If this proves to be a safer way of storing ammonia it could revolutionize how ammonia is produced and stored, not just here in Morris, but around the world. Mara’s favorite part of spending time in Morris has been having American breakfast at Don’s Café.

We have loved having the opportunity to host these German students in Morris and they have enjoyed their time here too. Their work is helping our community by ensuring our water is clean, our ammonia use is safe, and by finding ingenious ways to power critical infrastructure even in power outages or grid failures.