Anne Prieur-Vernat, expert in life cycle assessment
When you ask which of her qualities describes her best, Anne Prieur-Vernat pauses, looks up to the sky as she considers her answer, and then gives a hint of a smile before replying modestly:
« I’m inquisitive and love figuring out things. »
This alert, sociable 37-year-old CRIGEN researcher has been curious about the world around her from a very early age: she learned the flute at age 8, shone as a teenage theater school student and adores literature (The Old Man and the Sea is her bedside reading) and cinema (she confesses to crying at Out of Africa and talks enthusiastically about Thomas Cailley’s Love at First Fight).
From doctoral student at Gaz de France to researcher at ENGIE
But it was her academic studies that really quenched her thirst for knowledge. Those studies began with a graduate school preparatory class at the Lycée Chaptal in Paris, followed by the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts et Métiers (ENSAM) engineering and research graduate school in 1998.
“What I particularly enjoyed about these three years spent in Angers, Paris and Bordeaux was the practical fabrication work – casting, stamping, welding, etc. – but also the research work I did during my final-year internship at the ENSAM laboratory. And that’s why I followed up with a thesis internship under a CIFRE (Industry Agreement for Training Through Research) agreement focusing on the use of forests for carbon storage and energy generation.”
It was at this time that she first came into contact with Gaz de France, when its Research Department invited her in. “I was pleasantly surprised by the open-minded attitude there, she remembers. Having successfully defended her thesis, she joined the French Petroleum Institute (IFP), where she became familiar with Fuel Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).”
“That led me on to taking an interest in other aspects of energy in the wider sense.”
By a happy conjunction of circumstances, the CRIGEN Project leader on these issues contacted her with the suggestion that Anne should consider being her successor. “That was at the end of 2009 after GDF merged with Suez. I accepted immediately, recalls Anne, who took up her new responsibilities in December 2010 following the birth of her second child.”
Her mission at CRIGEN is to assess environmental impacts
In her office overlooking the Stade de France decorated with art works ranging from the drawings of the children to Friedensreich Hundertwasser, her exploration of life cycles has been so exhaustive that she is now the go-to LCA expert at CRIGEN.
“The mission of the center is not only to develop new techniques, but also to support individual Group entities in improving the way they do things. And LCA has an important role to play in that.”
This overarching method with its origins in the 1990s is designed to evaluate the environmental impacts of a given system, from the extraction of raw materials through to its end of life. It applies equally to every link in the gas chain and to specific processes and products, such as the desulfurization process used in gas storage facilities and smart gas meters.
“In practical terms, it identifies every stage of a given life cycle and prepares an inventory for each of those stages to include the consumption of energy and materials, and all air, water and soil emissions. These inventories are then translated into environmental impacts. Those impacts will, for example, include climate change: having calculated the greenhouse gas emissions involved, these are characterized to arrive at an indicator expressed as CO2 equivalent, which is used to assess the corresponding impacts.”
Having worked closely with her colleagues to assess the environmental impacts of all the gas chain models of today and those under development (Liquefied Natural Gas or LNG, natural gas as a vehicle fuel, etc.), the energy generated by ENGIE or the business activities of individual Group Business Units, to take just a few examples, Anne is currently working in three key areas: water footprint, building LCA and the environmental impacts of processes developed as part of the GAYA project, whose aim is to develop a new second-generation biomethane production process.
“In the first instance, the results of our studies provide useful input for decision-making. They make it easier to guide research and development choices, build the case for defending certain processes, monitor the environmental effects of particular initiatives, and ultimately to understand our own business better.”
Researcher and network coordinator
Anne’s day-to-day work extends well beyond assessments. For several years now, she has coordinated an LCA practices community within ENGIE; a network of specialists she initiated herself. It currently has around 30 members taken from the Research & Technologies Department (DRT), the DRT-CRIGEN, the DRT-Laborelec (the ENGIE specialist research center for electricity), the Environmental & Social Responsibility Department, the Group divisions and even Suez Environnement. “It’s something I’m very proud about, she admits, because I believe in the benefits of cross-disciplinary working.”
The importance assumed by LCA across the industry is something else that this researcher is proud of.
“It has become a benchmark methodology and essential resource for corporates like ENGIE, which has also combined with other industrial companies, ADEME and SCORE LCA to create a non-profit organization whose aim is to fund the research work required to advance the discipline of life cycle assessment.”
As a member of the ENGIE expert community, Anne promotes the technique at management level, but that in no way prevents her from continuing her passion for working as a team member and leading individual projects. “I definitely don’t enjoy being confined to my own comfort zone”, she explains as she stresses the benefits of project mode working.
It is undoubtedly this open-minded attitude to others that has led to her being appointed as an ENGIE Expert Technical Ambassador; a new role that she has unthusiastically embraced. “It involves explaining to new employees and students at careers forums just what being an ENGIE expert means: anything but a learned scholar stuck in an office!” The sheer enthusiasm of Anne Prieur-Vernat is enough to convince anyone of that.