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The Roads to Carbon Neutral – Episode 5 – From Waste to Watts

The Roads to Carbon Neutral - Episode 5 ​

From Waste to Watts

The Roads to Carbon Neutral

The third season of The Roads to Carbon Neutral program, in partnership with CNBC Catalyst, shares an inspiring and optimistic view of TotalEnergies’ role in our sustainable future globally through powerful, human-led and on-the-ground stories.

Throughout the series' eight episodes, discover the solutions and innovations making the transition to low-carbon energy a reality and helping us achieve a carbon-neutral future.

In this fifth episode, we head to Béarn with Cecilia Sambusiti. From our Study and Research Division (PERL) laboratory to our BioBéarn biogas production unit, discover how we’re galloping forward to transform waste into energy.

Cecilia Sambusiti, Biogas R&D Project Manager, TotalEnergies

Try and leave this world a little better than you found it. I was taught this when I was just a child, and ever since it's been a guiding principle for me. I grew up horseriding and connected with the natural world. I see waste as resources. Today, my team in France use this sort of waste from farms and stables to produce energy. Here we are demonstrating that biogas can help us to achieve our global net zero goals.

This part of France has a long history with natural gas. Since 1950, it's produced about 90% of the total French natural gas demand. We rely on natural gas for a quarter of our electricity needs. But to lower our emissions, we need to move toward less carbon intensive solutions.

Biogas is a renewable energy source produced from the breakdown of organic waste like waste from food, agricultural and animals. This year we launched the Biobéarn site. This is the eighteenth unit from TotalEnergies biogas site and is the largest in France. This unit is fed with organic waste from local farms that we call biomass. This biomass is then converted into biomethane, these biomethane taps straight into the existing local gas infrastructure, powering homes and farms that produce biomass for the biogas unit.

Promoting a circular economy. First, we grind the biomass and mix it. Then it is heated to 70 degrees to pasteurize. We store it in the digester with no oxygen and keep it to a temperature of 40 degrees. After 45 days, we are left with the two products, the biogas that will be purified to make biomethane and digestate which is a natural fertilizer. This circularity makes the process more sustainable, benefiting the farms and us.

PERL is focused on biogas, research and development for TotalEnergies. This strong partnership aims to provide a more affordable, cleaner, reliable, and accessible energy for as many people as possible. It's an exciting and experimental platform here. We created a database of around 3000 different biomass samples characterized in terms of chemical composition and biomethane potential. This has proved vital for maximizing the methane production across our sites.

Florian Monlau, Head of Biogas lab, PERL TotalEnergies

Liquid digestate can be restricted in some countries. Here we are performing some tests of microalgae on liquid digestate and this microalgae after can be used in different sectors like the energetic sector, biomaterials and also animal feed application.

Cecilia Sambusiti, Biogas R&D Project Manager, TotalEnergies

Every year over 100 billion tons of organic waste is produced worldwide, contaminating the environment. Biogas is an emerging market but it is straightforward and low tech, so we can deploy it expansively in the next few years. In 2030, it will be equivalent to the annual gas needs of almost 2 million homes. Biogas is a vital step towards a net zero future.

Biogas: a new low-carbon energy source

Biogas, produced from the degradation of organic waste, is a renewable gas composed mainly of methane. With the same properties as natural gas, it can be injected into gas transmission and storage networks and used for power generation, heating or as an alternative fuel for mobility.

The biogas market is essentially local. We’re rapidly gaining momentum, especially in France. In January 2023, we opened BioBéarn, the largest methanization plant in the country. This circular economy project enables us to recycle 220,000 tonnes of organic waste each year into 200,000 tonnes of digestate, a natural fertilizer, and 160 GWh of biomethane, equivalent to the average annual consumption of 32,000 inhabitants.

Every year, 105 billion tons of organic waste is produced worldwide. Almost all of it remains untreated: left to rot, emitting methane into the atmosphere and contaminating environments. Biogas is an emerging market, but it’s straightforward and low-tech - so we can deploy it expansively in the next few years.
Cecilia Sambusiti Biogas R&D Project Manager

Accelerating in biogas

  • 18

    TotalEnergies biogas production units in France*

    * By the end of January 2023, there will be 7 biomethane production units injected into the gas grid, and 11 biogas production units supplying electricity and heat via cogeneration.

  • +30%

    expected increase in biogas production by 2025

  • 20 TWh/year

    our global biomethane capacity target for 2030

PERL: center of expertise for a sustainable future

For over 50 years, the Lacq Study and Research Division (PERL) has embodied TotalEnergies’ leading scientific expertise. Its four areas of expertise – Environment & Sustainable Development (ESD), Gas Separation & Treatment, Physical Chemistry & Analysis, and Implementation/Operation of semi-industrial pilots – play an essential role in research in areas of strategic importance to TotalEnergies. Among them, the ESD Division pays particular attention to the valorization of biomass in the form of biogas, through anaerobic digestion.

For several years in close collaboration with the algae and biotechnology teams of the biofuels R&D program, based at CRES (Lyon), PERL has also been working on optimizing the growth of microalgae or cyanobacteria in different cropping systems for different applications and in particular the management of digestates and biogenic CO2 from methanisation.

The Platform for Experimental Resarch at Lacq

Infographics « The Platform for Experimental Research at Lacq » - see detailed description hereafter
Since the creation of the Biogas BU at TotalEnergies, PERL has focused on biogas Research & Development for TotalEnergies. This strong partnership means that ideas and solutions discovered here for lowering the environmental footprint and costs across the gas chain, can make their way out into the energy sector. It’s an exciting experimental platform here, with around 10 different Biogas R&D projects underway.
Cecilia Sambusiti Biogas R&D Project Manager

The Roads to Carbon Neutral

Watch the previous episodes