French gas association optimistic about reaching 2023 biomethane target this year

"We are very confident that we will exceed the 1% biomethane production target in France this year," said Patrick Corbin, president of the French Gas Association (AFG). [Ralf Geithe/Shutterstock]

The gas industry is committed to ensuring that by 2050, 100% of gas is renewable or decarbonised, but to achieve that, it will have to diversify, Patrick Corbin, president of the French Gas Association (AFG) said in an interview with EURACTIV France.

Corbin gave his position on the certification system for renewable gas provided in the EU’s landmark Fit for 55 package of climate and energy legislative proposals, arguing for an equal transposition across all EU countries.

The gas industry is in the midst of a green transition. What are the main sources of biomethane available in France?

The main resources today come from agricultural waste and intermediate crops for energy purposes. These main resources are also supplemented by waste from wastewater treatment plants. But most of it is agricultural waste with a production capacity of around 20 GWh per year.

We are very confident that we will exceed the 1% biomethane production target in France this year. We are ahead of the objectives of the multi-annual energy programme (PPE). The PPE production objective, which was set for 2023 at 6 TWh, should be reached in 2021.

France’s objective is to incorporate 10% of biomethane into its gas mix. What has already been achieved and what remains to be done to reach this objective?

The 10% target means about 40 TWh of biomethane produced in France. Today, we are convinced that we can achieve it, both with the current projects and with the latest measure voted in the Climate and Resilience Bill.

The latter provides for the introduction of green certificates that will support the production of biomethane in addition to the budgetary support of the PPE. The green certificates oblige each supplier to have a given share of renewable gas in its sales of gas to its customers. This system makes it possible to release resources that will make it possible to finance the extra production and reach the 40 TWh in 2030.

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To achieve this goal, will the gas industry have to diversify?

Absolutely. It will no longer have to be just an agricultural and/or wastewater treatment plant type of industry. We are seeing the emergence of mixed projects between industries and local authorities, particularly from the recovery of food waste in cities.

Today, it is too early to say what will be the share of agricultural projects, the share of wastewater treatment plant projects, and the share of other projects. But we know that we will get there. We will meet the objectives of the EPP and beyond.

The Climate Law also provides for the introduction of low emission zones (LEZ) in France. What concerns do you have about this measure?

The introduction of these LEZs will mean that an extremely large number of craftsmen, shopkeepers and others will have to change their diesel and petrol vehicles. We want CNG and bioGNV (ed. biomethane used as green fuel for vehicles) to have their rightful place, and that we don’t just think about electric vehicles.

At the European level, the same thing is true: European regulations concerning cars do not consider bio-NGV as a decarbonised energy. Of course, bio-NGV emits CO2 in the exhaust, but the CO2 is captured by the plant when it grows. This is a major concern for us.

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The Fit for 55 package provides for a certification system for gas from renewable sources: what are your recommendations for setting up such a system at European level?

It is extremely important that there are no differences in transposition between European states. They must not lead to differences in the behaviour of economic actors. We will ensure that competition is not distorted.

It is also essential that these future measures preserve France’s industrial capacity. For example, today 85% of the hydrogen consumed in France is used in two industrial sectors: refining and ammonia. They are very competitive on a global level. If the price of hydrogen in Europe or in France is too high for these industries, they will clearly relocate.

Overall, we support this objective in the Fit for 55 package: we think that renewable gases have a real part to play. Let’s not forget that renewable gases are storable energy. The fact that we have storable energy is a determining factor when we see the difficulties that other intermittent energies that are not storable, such as electrical energy, can have.

In France today, do we have the necessary storage capacity?

Of course we do. Today, we store about a quarter of France’s annual gas consumption. One has to bear in mind that biomethane, once produced, is like natural gas. It will not increase French consumption, it will replace natural gas.

The greater the production of biomethane, the less natural gas will be imported. It is a substitution phenomenon, so we know that the existing storage facilities are more than sufficient.

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A “gas package” is expected next December. What are your expectations?

We are asking for renewable gases to be taken into account in European gas policy, for the possibilities of Carbon Capture Storage (CSS) to be taken into account and for a certain technological neutrality in European choices.

The European Commission’s policy in favour of electric vehicles is not technologically neutral.

I fully understand a certain lack of understanding on the part of the Italians who say this policy will lead to the destruction of many jobs in the Italian car industry. Moreover, Italian electricity is far from being decarbonised, so where will we be in 2035? These concerns must also be heard.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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