On February 28, 2020, at this year’s Paris International Agricultural Fair, ENGIE brought together a panel of users and experts to talk about the benefits of biomethane: Didier Piot and Paul Gaffet, two farmers; Nicolas Spilliaert, who is responsible for biogas development in the Group; and Françoise Thiébaut, general secretary of the Associations Familiales Laïques. The aim ws to share feedback on the introduction of this new green energy in the regions.
The participants came from associations, companies and the agricultural sector, but they all had the same message: biomethane is an energy of the future for the regions. At a time when the world of agriculture is experiencing a serious crisis, “this renewable energy is a source of great hope,” says Didier Piot, a farmer in a sugar cooperative in the Aisne, who has opted for biomethane.
“For 15 years now, we have been looking for ways to save farms and biomethane is a way to make farms resilient.”
In comparison with other renewable energies, biomethane innovates by converting waste and is part of a local approach that involves all the players in a given area.“We’re here to create a win-win situation between farmers, who are able to recycle their waste, and the general public, through the production of green gas,” says Nicolas Spilliaert, who is in charge of the Group’s development in biomethane. Another advantage for communities is that each biomethane unit creates between three and seven local jobs that cannot be relocated.
“ENGIE is a shareholder in my company, helps me financially and supports me,” explains Didier Piot. In concrete terms, we assist farmers from the outset of projects, finance and operate production units, and offer a system to guarantee the sale price of biomethane. In exchange for the farmers’ organic waste, we provide them with a digested sludge, a nitrogen-rich residue resulting from the mechanization process which serves as soil fertilizer. For the rest, the bio-waste is digested and two-thirds of the organic matter is transformed into biomethane, which can then be fed into the network.
To bring all these skills together within a single structure, we created ENGIE Bioz, which initiates, develops, builds and operates biomethane production units. With 13 plants in operation, we have a clear roadmap: to produce a volume of 5 TWh/year of biomethane by 2030.
Although biomethane has many advantages, it still sometimes gets bad press. Paul Gaffet, a cereal farmer in northern France, said, “The neighbors of one of my colleagues used to complain every time he spread his digestate. He asked them to come into the fields, they saw it didn’t smell and it won them over.” By involving local residents in the projects and showing and explaining to them how biomethane works, it is possible to overcome resistance. Each project is preceded by consultations between farmers, industrialists, local authorities and residents.
“We have to include local residents as far upstream as possible,” confirms Nicolas Spilliaert. “On some of our projects, there is even participatory financing that allows local residents to own shares in the production unit. This is worthwhile because it increases people’s sense of involvement.”
Nicolas Spilliaert, head of biomethane development at ENGIE, and Paul Gaffet, a cereal farmer in northern France.
For both farmers, the decision to go into biomethane has already been a success, even if they are at different stages of their projects. Paul Gaffet, who has been producing biomethane for 6 years, is already seeing the benefits of the digestate applied to his soils. Didier Piot, for his part, has recently gathered together 16 farmers to launch the Métalliance cooperative, dedicated to producing biomethane. “You are among the pioneers, we are only at the beginning of the adventure,” concluded Spilliaert.
A committed player across the entire chain, ENGIE is taking part in the launch of the Agri Impact fund for the economic diversification of farmers in the regions, created by the Avril Foundation in partnership with the French Ministry of Agriculture and recognized as being in the public interest. We will be investing €2 million in the fund to support the development of renewable energy projects, particularly biomethane.
Didier Guillaume, the French Minister of Agriculture, with Rosaline Corinthien, CEO of ENGIE France Renouvelables
As a concrete illustration of this ambition, we also signed a partnership arrangement with the Fédération Française d’Equitation (FFE), the third largest sports federation in France, to which the Group offered a solution for recovering equine inputs to produce biogas in FFE centers and installing photovoltaic panels. The French Minister of Agriculture, Didier Guillaume, came to the ENGIE stand to applaud this agreement in person.