Northern France’s agricultural areas host many biobased initiatives. Both in Picardy and in Champagne-Ardennes, French government invests in joint chemistry/agriculture projects. There are pilot and demo plants for ethanol production, and the French produce second generation biofuels, and biochemicals like succinic acid. These two areas are in the heart of French agriculture, in particular of wet cropping. The area produces 57% of French sugar beet, 39% of potatoes, 47% of hemp and 80% of alfalfa.
French government stimulates competitive clusters: regional networks of universities, research institutions, industry, SMEs and local authorities. They prioritize feedstock chains, technology transfer, research and development, including demo projects. France hosts 61 of these clusters, among them some very big ones. One of the big Worldclass clusters investigates biobased resources: Industries & Agro Resources (IAR), which owns a large complex in Northern France. This cluster consists of 25 major industrial companies (among them Roquette Frères), and 50 SMEs. Members jointly invest in research. Since 2006, they investigate 110 projects, 72 of which are subsidized (€ 367 million). Government agencies, in particular regional authorities, contribute more than one third of research funds.
Vinasse pyrolysis is among the objects researched; other research objects are platform chemicals production, and second generation bioethanol. There are demo plants for succinic acid and other biobased chemicals production.
The Les Sohettes industrial complex (the heart of the IAR-cluster employing a workforce of 1.000), in the Pomacle village near Reims, hosts factories for wheat and sugar beet processing. Installations include a plant for processing one million tons of sugar beet, and half a million tons of wheat, to 3.5 million hectolitres of bioethanol, and fodder as a secondary product. ARD (Agro-industries Recherches & Développements) was responsible for developing the fermentation process.
ARD is a development centre employing 79 researchers; farmer’s cooperatives own three quarters. It therefore intends to carry an extra income to farmers as a result of its research. ARD develops the Futurol project, which produces second generation bioethanol from a broad range of biomass and municipal waste, which may vary per area and per season. The process employs up to 80 m3 digesters. In 2016, ARD would like to operate a 100 ton/h demo unit for scaling up succinic acid production. Production of other biobased chemicals is scheduled for later years. ARD has a € 75 million budget, € 30 million of which from OECD funds for innovation in SMEs. The French approach to the biobased economy appears to represent an interesting business model, and more telling is that they made a lot of progression. The French now look into prospects for international cooperation, for instance with Dutch Wageningen UR. This would build upon existing cooperation in some EU-projects.
Courtesy WTC, Dutch Scientific and Technological Committee for the biobased economy