Jan Mallan, Engineer and partner of SUPERGAS Ltd.
DB/ We would like to know how you met SUPERFLEX? Did they come to you and ask for your support, your technical expertise?
JM/ I was working with biogas for a company called August Olsen’s eft.. August Olsen’s built biogas plants and later on produced other things in connection with biogas.
I think it was SUPERFLEX who knew August Olsen personally very well.
BS/ And through him they met you?
JM/ He said that SUPERFLEX would like to build a biogas installation. They needed somebody who could help them with the technique to produce biogas. Normally it’s very expensive to build small biogas plants. But SUPERFLEX had a concept to build the whole thing in Copenhagen, so small you could transport it on your bicycle.
I felt it was a good idea; then we talked about what it should look like and what the purpose was of the installation in Tanzania. So we found out about the problems in Tanzania. They have no good biogas there. They use it but it’s not working well. There are still many problems. So we discussed how we could make something for the same price, but something that would work. I think we have succeeded in producing such an installation. It’s still running in Tanzania, it’s not perfect, but we’re still working on it.
BS/ So you have an interest in improving it?
JM/ The first installation in Tanzania didn’t work absolutely perfectly, but we needed a documentation. The idea is to achieve a very cheap, man-made mass-product. And for mass-production you need documentation to prove that everything is working well.
DB/ Did you install a sort of prototype?
JM/ Yes, the one in Tanzania is a prototype. We also have other contacts. In Vietnam there’s an institute for testing small biogas installations. It belongs to the University of Ho Chi Min City. They have very good communication via the internet and all the research can be seen on the internet.
BS/ Do you think that it will soon be ready for mass-production or does it need more time for development?
JM/ I think the documentation will take about 7 months, and then we will start production. But we also need a production place in Asia, it’s very cheap there, much cheaper than in Denmark. You cannot produce cheaply in Denmark.
DB/ The idea is to produce the biogas there?
JM/ You see, there is also the question of a sales organisation. The people don’t have the money to pay, so you need a bank. You need to work together with experts in this field and we hope that the first mass-produced installation will be ready perhaps in a year, perhaps in a year and a half.
BS/ The problem is that the technical development is linked to the social situation, to the cultural situation, so you have to be aware of all these aspects and not only of the technical problems.
JM/ You see, one could produce a lot of small biogas plants but there is very little money. It’s mostly NGOs – non-governmental organisations – that are usually working with these things. This is the first time I’ve worked in this field, normally I work in industry on bigger installations.
DB/ What was your motivation for working with SUPERFLEX. Is it different from what you did before? What did you mean when you said, “Yes, I am interested in the project”?
JM/ SUPERFLEX phoned me and said they would like to know something about biogas. I said, “You’re welcome. The first time I won’t cost anything, but next time I will.” I wanted to be paid, I didn’t really believe in their plans and they told me they had no money. So I phoned Freddy Bruzelius from August Olsen and asked him about SUPERFLEX and their ideas. He wasn’t sure but he thought that it would be interesting to carry on. So I changed my mind and said they didn’t have to pay. But I said that when they started work, I wanted to take part in the project.
BS/ So, if this is successful you will get a percentage of the success. That’s only fair.
JM/ They are serious about the project and they work hard. No, I’m not sceptical any more, I believe it will succeed. I think we can raise enough money. There is a lot of goodwill for SUPERFLEX and a lot of connections. I think when we are working seriously and show results it will be possible to reach the target.
BS/ In effect, you joined them because you wanted to find out what was possible and what was not possible?
JM/ No, I thought it would be interesting not to work for industry and that one could work on a project differently to the way it’s done in industry. I was interested to make something which could be used differently compared to what I had done before. There are a lot of other aspects which you don’t find in industry where you can always use money to make improvements. But it’s more interesting to make it simpler and cheaper. That’s also different from industry. In industry you don’t ask whether there is any money. Of course, there is. But here you know there’s no money. I believe it’s a very good idea of SUPERFLEX’s to make small biogas plants for families with only two or three cows and some chickens.
DB/ Have you been to Africa with them?
JM/ No, never, but I heard a lot from SUPERFLEX. They have often travelled to Africa, and there is a lot of literature about developing countries.
BS/ Why have you never been to Africa?
JM/ Because such a small installation can be erected by a family itself. When you make a bigger plant it’s necessary for the engineer to be on the spot. And in Vietnam the institute takes care of everything.
BS/ Did you ever ask yourself why SUPERFLEX develop such projects within the field of art?
JM/ Of course. They are artists, not engineers, that’s perhaps difficult to understand. But it’s not just engineering, it’s also a thought, an idea. They made an installation at the Louisiana Museum of Art and it’s very good that such an installation can be used not only as an artist’s sculpture. There’s more behind it. In Holland you have organisations where scientists, artists and others are working together to develop new ideas. I believe the initiative there came from an engineer. Here it’s the other way around. The artists come to the engineer. SUPERFLEX asked me, I didn’t ask SUPERFLEX. When they first asked me, I didn’t think it was a good idea. But we’ve succeeded in making the installation work. And I believe that there is a good possibility that the use of biogas could be made more popular in these areas.
This interview was conducted by Barbara Steiner and Doris Berger.