Green gas and society project

In the Pense-Folie business park in the Loiret region of France, livestock effluents, canteen waste and the remains of industrial cakes produce a green gas that can be used to supply hundreds of homes: biomethane, an energy source that is on the rise but is still far from being fully developed.

Gâtinais Biogaz is one of the 226 methanisation plants installed in France since the country authorised their deployment in 2011. These installations can be recognised by their yurt-shaped tanks, where organic matter ferments until the methane obtained is injected into the gas network. Here, the project is supported by farmers, as is often the case. Twelve farms supply manure and intercrops, as well as waste from the food industry and potatoes and onions that are unsuitable for sale. A total of 25,000 tonnes of waste is processed each year.

"I was made aware of this by one of my teachers," explains Jean-Yves Gardoni, the president of Gâtinais Biogaz, a farmer and cereal producer who developed the idea in the 2000s. "Originally from the Ain, I had seen this in Switzerland. "We were thinking about sustainable energies, the circular economy, with a desire for economic development. So we set up this project. "Gâtinais Biogaz required 4.6 million euros, financed by grants and loans, with 22 partners. Air Liquide buys the production, and GRDF injects it into the network.

Cost versus services rendered

In France, a total of nearly 4 TWh of biomethane capacity has been installed in ten years, with a near doubling by 2020. However, barely 1% of the country's gas consumption is covered, whereas the law aims for 10% biogas by 2030 (i.e. 39 to 42 TWh). How to accelerate? The sector has a thousand projects. But France's latest energy roadmap, under budgetary constraints, has lowered the objectives for 2023 to 6 TWh. For 2028, it will be 14 or even 22 TWh if the operators manage to lower the costs. In fact, biogas costs around 100 euros per MWh, compared with 25 euros, or even 15 euros at the moment, for fossil natural gas.

"Like any developing sector, we are aiming for a reduction in costs, through a number effect, digitalisation, etc. "explains Frédéric Terrisse, from the France Biométhane think tank. "But we remain cautious: we are working on customised projects that are difficult to standardise" due to the diversity of inputs. Price alone is not relevant, the industry argues, listing the services provided. In particular, it is a local gas with a neutral carbon footprint - when fossil gas emits 20% of France's greenhouse gases.

Gâtinais Biogaz thus represents 1,700 tonnes of CO2 equivalent avoided, or the emissions of 800 cars, according to Mr Gardoni. But for him, this project is above all "a social issue". Farmers "are at the service of society: they treat the waste of communities and industrialists, they produce renewable energy, they create jobs in rural areas," he says (4.5 jobs in his company). The "digestate" that remains after the transformation of waste into gas also provides an organic fertiliser, researchers from the Inrae research institute came to Gâtinais Biogaz to explain. "Methanisation is interesting from an agronomic point of view," emphasises Antoine Savoie, one of them.

One of the partner farmers, a cereal grower, notes that he uses a third less chemical fertiliser, with an annual saving of 15,000 euros. However, methanisation still needs to be convinced. The Senate has begun hearings on its impact, particularly on energy and the economy. "Like any industry, there are impacts," admits Frédéric Terrisse. "We still need to improve, to reduce odour nuisance, to integrate into the landscape, and to limit dedicated crops. Jean-Yves Gardoni's methaniser is next to several houses. The person in charge of the plant has left a register at the town hall to note any odours, but he assures us that he hardly ever receives any comments.

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