The French and European objectives in terms of ecological transition have opened up a future for the bioenergy sector, which has strong development potential and a good card to play.
Coming from biomass, bioenergy is the leading source of renewable energy in France and in Europe. Of course, wood energy dominates the market (nearly 40%) with a strong penetration of the residential sector, but behind it, new energy systems are booming. Starting with biofuels, which make up a large part of the public R&D expenditure devoted to biomass and place France in the top 5 producing countries. Avoiding user competition with food needs, second generation biofuels (biodiesel made from used cooking oils, bioethanol based on cellulosic biomass) are now in the active development phase.
A Sector Strategic Committee
Another dynamic sector, methanation, making possible the manufacture of biogas, is poised to be at the forefront for the production of renewable gas in France. A big selling point is the fact that it is obtained by recycling agricultural, agri-food, urban or organic waste and effluents. Its purified derivative, biomethane (bioNGV), which can be reinjected into gas networks, completes the biofuel offer. Hydrogen, extracted by electrolysis of water or pyrogasification, is also relevant in the field of mobility, with some urban transport networks having already adopted it. A Strategic Committee for the “New Energy Systems Industries” sector was recently created to ensure the future of all these resources and their outlets.
Leading the way in the bioeconomy, the major agricultural regions of the Grand Est and Hauts-de-France are highly active on the subject (see box). “They have the raw material in abundance, the companies and production know-how, and a well-developed academic offering. Their ecosystem is conducive to the development of these new bioenergies”, notes Thierry Daniel, North-East regional delegate for GRTgaz and chairman of the Bioenergy Commission within the IAR cluster.
Even though bioenergy is promising, it does not always present its best profile to the general public. Methanation, for example, is not popular with the population with concerns on odour and noise pollution. “The negative view that people have of this type of installation stems from their mis-conception which is itself the consequence of a lack of communication,” said Mouhamed Niakate, Bioenergy Innovation Manager at the IAR cluster. We must inform and educate them before-hand by explaining the many advantages of the technology.”
Tangible advantages particularly valuable in the current context include: highly eco-friendly as most bioenergy generates low GHG emissions and provides new solutions for waste management; economically, they are a source of additional income for farmers and promote the creation of local jobs that cannot be relocated. The fact remains that these sectors, relying on technologies of the future, are early stage. They are still in the process of being structured, having to put in place clear operating procedures and optimal processes to reduce production costs. “And hopefully the state puts in place a more favorable framework with increased taxes on fossil fuels to encourage industrial players to support this development,” adds Mr. Niakate.
The climate crisis, compounded by the pandemic crisis, shows the urgency of replacing fossil fuels with energies that are more respectful of the environment, but also the need to repatriate essential industry. Bioenergy, renewable and sourced locally, meets this dual requirement by being able to contribute to the development of the circular economy and the dynamism of the regions. For Thierry Daniel, “It is an opportunity, yes, but in the same way that we accelerate the ecological transition, we must now accelerate innovation. ”
This is why the IAR cluster has made bioenergy a strategic field of activity and brings together a whole community of actors – representing the industrial, agricultural, energy, academic, institutional worlds – to work transversally towards their development. The objective: to find the best synergies and new avenues of R&D which, from the immense reservoir of energy constituted by biomass, can benefit all sectors. Only by combining the best of all the innovative solutions will we enable our country to significantly green its energy production and increase the share of renewable energies in gross final energy consumption to the 32% minimum target by 2030 it has committed to.
Source: Key figures for renewable energies 2019 – Office of the Commissioner General for Sustainable Development
Some regional projects supported by IAR
Born on the initiative of several industrialists, the DINAMHySE Grand Est project brings together all players in the hydrogen and mobility sector with the intention of forging a sector link between them which will lead to the creation of value around hydrogen. As for the METHAGRID project in Grand Est, this brings together industrial and academic players present in the region with an ambition is to improve digestion performance in methanation units, as part of the agro-industrial platform of Pomacle-Bazancourt. In the same region, a charter has been drawn up for the establishment of a biofuel sector contract (liquid and gaseous). The theme is also of interest to the Hauts-de-France region where the Bio-T-Fuel project aims to manufacture biofuel from wood waste. Finally, the CORBI (regional collective for injected biomethane) is developing a strong methanation network in Hauts-de-France.