Heating with Walloon gas is no longer a utopia - Trends-Tendances sur PC

Heating with Walloon gas is no longer a utopia – Trends-Tendances sur PC

Three biomethanation units now inject renewable gas into the Ores distribution network. This technology could quickly cover more than half of the consumption of Walloon households.

Last spring, crowdfunding enabled the Walvert company to raise 1 million euros to finance a biomethanation unit in Mettet, in the province of Namur. Construction will begin soon, for commissioning next year. Others should follow in 2024, notably in Chièvres and Estinnes. Walvert, which presents itself as the Walloon leader in biomethanation, was initially a specialized design office. “We master the technology and we decided three years ago to profile ourselves as real players in the transition, confides general manager Jonathan Blondeel. We have more than a dozen projects and things are looking up. are accelerating. It’s a bit like with wind turbines 10 or 15 years ago.”

Last spring, crowdfunding enabled the Walvert company to raise 1 million euros to finance a biomethanation unit in Mettet, in the province of Namur. Construction will begin soon, for commissioning next year. Others should follow in 2024, notably in Chièvres and Estinnes. Walvert, which presents itself as the Walloon leader in biomethanation, was initially a specialized design office. “We master the technology and we decided three years ago to profile ourselves as real players in the transition, confides general manager Jonathan Blondeel. We have more than a dozen projects and things are looking up. are accelerating. It’s a bit like with wind turbines 10 or 15 years ago.” This technology aims to recover the gas emitted during the biological degradation of organic matter (crop residues, green waste, livestock effluents, food waste, etc.). This biogas most often powers cogeneration engines that produce electricity and heat for local use near farms. There are around forty units of this type in Wallonia. Today, the projects are gaining momentum and the establishment of the Walloon mechanism supporting the injection of biomethane (purified biogas) into the natural gas networks makes it possible to envisage supplying thousands of households. Valbiom, the non-profit organization responsible for promoting the bio-based economy, assesses a “realistic potential” of around 15 TWh across the country, more than half of which in Wallonia. “This would represent half of the consumption of households and SMEs, says Matthieu Schmitt, expert in biomethanation at Valbiom. If we reduce consumption thanks to insulation plans and other measures, we can go well beyond 50% of biomethane on the Walloon distribution network in 2050.” This contribution to energy independence is without doubt the number one advantage of biomethanation today. But we are still a long way from that. The first biomethane injection point on the Ores network was only inaugurated in 2020 in Fleurus. Two others have since been added to Quévy and Les Bons Villers, while Walvert is thinking about it for his project in Mettet. The three units in service have an annual injection capacity of 50 GWh each, enough to cover the needs of 8,500 inhabitants. “Biomethanation is a mature technology, assures Nicolas Claude, Gas Network Planning Manager at Ores. We know that it works and that it is compatible with the existing network. Technically, we can supply local and sustainable gas to Walloon households. .” The network manager builds the injection cabins, which remain its property and allow it to control the quality of the biomethane. Ores is currently studying three requests for new biomethane injection sites which could be operational in 2024. Another advantage of this renewable gas: its carbon footprint. It generates an average of 30 to 35 g of CO2 per kWh, ie the equivalent of photovoltaics, eight times less than natural gas and almost ten times less than fuel oil. This can seriously help achieve climate goals and is a strong second plus in favor of biomethanation. With such assets, one wonders: why has Belgium not invested massively in the niche, unlike other European countries? The first obstacle is resources. Biomass is indeed a diffuse deposit of materials often left on the fields or in the farms and relatively expensive to transport. “Mobilizing this material, diffuse but very present, is a lace work to be accomplished with the agricultural sectors”, specifies Matthieu Schmitt. This involves designing biogas models that will interest farmers. The second obstacle is the cost. With a very low natural gas price, investments in biogas seemed unprofitable. At current rates, on the contrary, they bring great benefits. In what low water level will we be in the long term? “One piece of data to take into account is stability, specifies Nicolas Claude. We know the cost of biomethane production and it should only vary very marginally. This makes it possible to budget the use of energy over a long period without depending on the fluctuations of a market.” This price stability can be a decisive argument with both households and industry. The third brake is technical. On the one hand, the existing pipelines do not allow the installation of injection booths of sufficient size at any location in the network. On the other hand, it is necessary to manage the hiatus between stable production, seven days a week, and a demand for gas which varies greatly between winter and summer, between day and night. “Without the involvement of Ores, which reorganized its management to allow our Quévy site to operate, we would not have succeeded in starting up and demonstrating that the sector had a future”, agrees Julien Pozza, director of Quévy. (Mons) of the Vanheede group. Finally, everything must be integrated into the political and administrative sphere. Biomethanization affects energy, agriculture, the environment and the economy. And both the priorities and the regulations of these different departments do not always match… “The links between these areas have been broken by fossil fuels, analyzes Matthieu Schmitt. Biomethanation, and more broadly the circular economy, recreate these loops who had disappeared. This is perhaps their strength but it is also their weakness because the political world has learned to think in silos and it takes time to change operating habits. Finding yourself at the crossroads of several administrations can also multiply the paperwork. “With us, four people take care of reporting to the administrations, illustrates Julien Pozza. Our group can take it on but for an isolated farmer who wants to diversify into biomethanation, it’s very heavy.” The Vanheede group, based in Wervik, employs more than 800 people, spread over 14 sites in Belgium and northern France. This family company specializes in the treatment of organic waste, innovative sorting solutions and the production of alternative fuels (notably for cement kilns). It manages a total of more than 2,000 different types of waste and achieves a turnover of nearly 200 million euros. However, linking different fields is also an advantage for biomethanation. By adding value to agricultural residues, it fits perfectly into strategies in favor of a local and circular economy. There are a few dedicated crops, in particular maize, but they represent less than 10% of the resources currently used. “We need a little corn to regulate the process over the year and produce constant biogas even if the inputs vary according to the seasons”, explains Jonathan Blondeel (Walvert). Although biomethanation is a natural phenomenon, its development on an industrial scale requires fine technological mastery. At Quévy, Vanheede thus uses four digesters, each with specific properties, and the materials circulate from one to the other depending on the parameters. “There is constant monitoring of the right composition to obtain the best quality and most stable biogas possible”, says Julien Pozza. “These dedicated crops can also be sown between two main crops, thus preventing the land from remaining bare for several months, adds Matthieu Schmitt (Valbiom). These intercrops work as nitrate traps and avoid competition with food crops. .” Last element of circularity: at the end of the process, there is biogas but also a digestate. This can be returned to the fields as an amendment instead of chemical fertilizers. If the gas is intended for the network, it must be purified, ie its CO2 content must be reduced. But what to do with the extracted CO2? “After liquefaction of the CO2, we are thinking of using it first in industry and, eventually, in the food sector, for example to inject it into soft drinks”, confides Julien Pozza. Vanheede has a research unit in Quévy in order to constantly improve biomethanation techniques and the possibilities of recovering the various elements. The company is notably involved in research work with Materia Nova, Luminus and others on possible couplings with the production of hydrogen. Both at Vanheede and at Walvert, we plead for a reasoned development, with the multiplication of small units close to both the resources and the potential users of the digestate. “At Quévy, we process 150,000 tonnes of materials, explains Julien Pozza. Our technical expertise would allow us to grow to perhaps double the capacity. But I doubt that it is relevant to go beyond that. We must remain in the logic of creating local and sustainable sectors. And, in any case, the volume of inputs is not infinitely expandable.” The larger the plant, the further away the inputs will have to be fetched, at the risk of seeing transport costs weigh down the model. Jonathan Blondeel goes so far as to imagine the emergence of small units in each municipality, a scenario that would perfectly suit Walvert, whose job is to support project leaders in all stages, from construction to commissioning. “Small installations fit better into the landscape, they generate very little nuisance (odors, carting, etc.) and citizens can get involved financially thanks to crowdfunding”, says Jonathan Blondeel, whose several projects are financed from the type. Walvert’s latest projects include fast charging stations for electric cars and a bioCNG station. “At Ores, our networks can accommodate biomethane and we are ready to make the necessary investments if the sector were to develop significantly, concludes Nicolas Claude. We are talking about investments over more than 10 years. a clear message in particular on the way in which the Walloon Region conceives the development of the sector, the size of the units and their distribution on the territory.”

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