Anaerobic digestion isn’t a new technology in France. The first biogas plants were built at the beginning of the 20’s century to treat sewage sludge. The development concerns all sectors until the end of the century but without a real takeoff. A new period of development stared to begin since 2006, when feed-in tariffs were adopted for electricity produced with biogas.
Since 2007, the public program “Plan biogaz” was implemented, promoting biogas and biomethane in 2 Regions of Western France: Bretagne and Pays de la Loire. At the end of 2015, when Biogas Action project begins, there are in North-West France 92 AD plants and 12 dumps, incl. 64 agricultural AD plants (small scale/on farm and large scale/ centralized). Biogas is used in CHP, producing 274 GWh.
Two biogas plants produce biomethane, injected into the grid, while several biogas upgrading projects are in progress. Manure is the most important feedstock, often co-digested with industrial food waste, crops or crop residues.
From early 00’s to 2006, biogas development was modest, and mainly industrial/sewage targeted. Two key factors have driven the biogas development since 2006: the first feed in tariffs for electricity in 2006 and the subsidies from the National Environmental Agency (ADEME), under the Waste National Funds. Hence, the biogas plants developed at that time where mainly based on co-digestion: manure and industrial waste, and required gate fees for bio-waste to be economically viable. With the increase of biogas plants, it has become a competition on bio-waste, and development has slowed down.
Then, biogas sector turned toward agricultural sector as a mean of diversifying livestock farms (in a context of crisis) as well as a strategic environmental lever of reducing CO2 emission from livestock or decreasing the use of chemical fertilizers. So far, farmers are the main biogas investors, for small-scaled biogas plants as well as bigger centralized plants.
National policy has favored this model with the implementation of a bonus for manure in the 2011 feed in tariff and with the launch of Plan EMAA (Energie Methanisation Autonomie Azote which means Energy AD Autonomy (for farms) and Nitrogen.
This plan aimed to promote agricultural biogas plants in order to save chemical nitrogen, enhance food self-efficiency (with use of heat from CHP to dry green feed) and for the dense livestock Region, use heat to transform organic Nitrogen in bio-based fertilizers.
In this context, agricultural sector play a key role, and it has significant impact. First of all, as farmers are both biomass supplier and digestate users, it can secure business models. On the other hand, this situation leads to the risk of financing difficulties, and oblige farmers to develop new skills.
Furthermore, the 2011 feed in tariff and the subsidies have been made to support a “virtuous model of biogas”: obligation to use heat produced by CHP to enhance energy performance and limitation of energy crops.
In 2016, after 2 years of negotiations, new feed-in Tariff for electricity have been published, which soft the conditions regarding the use of heat, and a national law has framed the use of energy crops.
In addition, the possibility to inject upgraded biomethane in gas grid since 2011 marks a new trend and offers new possibilities for the biogas sector. France has a great potential for biomethane injection, due to the existence of a quite dense and well ramified grid. But on the other hand, the fuel gas/ NGV sector is barely developed in France. This challenges energy sector and transport industry, which seems to be more likely turning towards electric mobility. Nevertheless, road carriers and local authorities seem to be very interested in BioNGV, but face the lack of infrastructures such as refueling stations.
In this context, French ambitions are strong for biogas sector for electricity and heat as well as green gas production. National targets multiply and are part of a multifaceted framework: energy transition law that fixes objectives to decrease French nuclear production to 50% of the electricity mix, Paris agreement on Climate Change, Objectives for circular economy, and objectives for bio-waste recovery…
Also, another challenge is biogas companies’ financial soundness and capability to innovate and move forward in a competitive and difficult market. Because of attractive declaration from French government, many foreign companies have decided to get into the French market the past few years. They have joined a number of French companies, coming from water treatment or energy sector, and subsidiaries from German, Dutch… companies settled since 2006/2010. More than 30 biogas plants manufacturers are now settled in France, for 70 new biogas plants built every year. Several of them face economic difficulties, and some have already gone bankrupt.
Lastly, local and public acceptance could be a next major issue and has to be taken into account right now, which project holders are starting to do, but with heterogeneous efficiency.
During the first period of BiogasAction, the Association d’Initiatives Locales pour l’Energie et l’Environnement (AILE) has been working on different tasks in order to promote and fulfill the targets in BiogasAction and the different challenges in North-West France.
For instance, a regional strategic roadmap for the Region Pays de la Loire has been written, in order to implement a new regional policy and enhance biogas production. AILE participated at different departmental committee and worked on the establishment of a regional advisory committee, which should be implemented in autumn 2017. In addition, thematic advisory committees have been organized about biomethane and digestate in December 2016 and April 2017.
To contribute to the strengthening of the biogas sector framework, AILE has participated to different working groups at national level, in order to define a clear legal or economic framework for biogas sector. This regards new support mechanism, the national strategy for research about biogas or legal framework regarding energy crops. A workshop has been organized with the French cluster “Club Biogaz” for biogas companies regarding security and quality standards. Following this workshop, the decision to work on quality standards for the biogas sector has been taken and a working group has been created. Finally, conferences were organized regarding new economic models, with Club Biogaz association in November 2015 about substrates pre-treatment and with RAEE and Gas Grid operators about biomethane project assistance.
In order to optimise business models and financing of biogas projects, AILE has followed 2 projects in progress in Brittany. The projects aim to collect biomethane from farms and planned to transport upgraded biomethane or raw biogas from the farm to a common injection point. A centralized big project has also received assistance to move forward from the old support mechanism with feed-in-tariff to the new one. In the new economic model, Electricity is sold to the electricity market and producer can receive bonus from EDF if they win the call for tender. In addition, a financing guideline has been published, in collaboration with RAEE and finance consultants targeted to project owners to understand the positioning of banks and the alternative possibilities to finance projects.
The Association has participated to the implementation of a new training program for biogas farmers including 5 days classroom training, internship and on-line training, in collaboration with Agricultural Chambers of Brittany and the French Association for biogas Farmers (AAMF) This first session has been evaluated and improvement will be done to renew the program in 2017. Several dry AD plants are facing difficulties in Pays de la Loire, because of the lack of experience in solid digestion, technical problem due to construction faults… One of this plant received assistance to improve its biogas production. Finally, the Association’s apprentice worked on a Swedish plant “More Biogas” on the plant optimization, especially on the biofilter functioning, as well as condensate water and mitigation to Nitrogen losses from digestate.
Additionally assistance has been given to 4 centralized plants that were facing difficulties to move forward. Work consists on meeting animation, tools development and support for project development (feasibility studies, financing, building).
Association d’Initiatives Locales pour l’Energie et l’Environnement (AILE) is a local energy agency created in 1995, working on renewable energies and energy savings in agricultural and rural areas of Western France. AILE’s usual partners are both farmers and local authorities. Its two main activities are the non food biomass valorisation and the energy savings for agricultural machinery. The non food biomass valorisation activity has a special focus on Short Rotation Coppice of willow, development of woodchips boilers and supply chain, and biogas production at farm level. A new field of interest is how to implement an energy policy at local level in rural areas.