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“New methanes”: new sectors for industrial rollout

To strengthen the place of gas in the energy mix and to help ensure that the gas industry makes the most of the ongoing energy transition, RICE claims cutting-edge expertise in the study of new gases and, in particular, in the preparation of the networks – transport and distribution – for their development.

Dairo Ballestas Castro is the coordinator of our “Preparing Networks for the Arrival of New Methanes” program.

'New gases' for a new energy mix

To offset the effects of the climate crisis and make the most of the technological innovations available, France, along with the other Member States of the European Union, has embarked on an ambitious energy transition process. The French government is devoting abundant resources to it, in particular to create impetus throughout the energy sector. Out of conviction and to meet the expectations of the regulatory authorities, we fully subscribe to this positive dynamic. Our ambition: to prepare the networks for the arrival of “new gases” to strengthen the place of gas energy in the energy mix that will result from this transition.

To achieve this, it is necessary to promote “new gases”, renewable and responsible, to encourage the actions necessary to achieve industrialised production technologies, as well as to anticipate the control of the impacts of their injection into networks, existing or to be built.

These “new gases” include hydrogen, “new methane” and CO2. The “new methanes” include the methammer biomethane injected into France since 2011, as well as gases assimilated to natural gas from new channels such as pyrogasification or hydrothermal gasification.

These “new methanes” must be studied to ensure a safe injection into the networks and contribute to the regulatory framework to be established or strengthened. This is the purpose of the “Preparing Networks for the Arrival of New Methane” program, which I coordinate.

"New gases" or "New methanes"?

On this basis, we decided to study the new gases through two different programs: one dedicated to hydrogen alone and the other focused on “new methanes” (likened to natural gas). A programme based on CO2 transport is also envisaged in the short term.

In France, biomethane is defined as methane produced by the anaerobic digestion of biomass, with a subsequent purification step. This designation is defined in the French government decree of 23 November 2011 governing the nature of the inputs into the production of biomethane for injection into natural gas networks. The biomethane sector has reached an advanced industrial stage in France, whether in production and purification techniques, injection and routing or its regulatory framework. Optimizations are needed and are the focus of studies aimed, among other things, at reducing the cost of injected biomethane and improving risk control practices.

The other “new methanes” we are working on are the result of pyrogasification processes with various inputs (including biomass different from those defined by the 2011 order) and hydrothermal gasification of liquid inputs. To date, we do not yet know whether we can call these gases “biomethane” within the meaning of the regulations. No doubt the latter will need to be changed to reach a new definition of these “new methanes” that can achieve a consensus (low-carbon methanes? renewable methanes?).

The pyrogasification and hydrothermal gasification sectors for the injection of gas into the networks are under development. Our ongoing research and development and innovation efforts are aimed at demonstrating the sound technological basis for these production processes (combined or not with a methanation step). For these two sectors, our research and development and innovation efforts are focussing on the production technologies for these gases (contribution to demonstration partnerships) and the in-depth knowledge of gas matrices to guarantee their safe injection into and routing through the transport and distribution networks. Sector-based studies, such as life cycle analysis and the use of co-products, also contribute to the development of these sectors.

The "New Methanes", a challenge of its own

The “Preparing networks for the arrival of new methane” program has three components: the first consists of ensuring that the injection and transport of these “new gases” can be done safely and reducing the costs of injecting biomethane; the second includes all the R&D actions necessary to ensure that the production technologies, developed for these “new methanes”, will be ready for the sector to be industrialised; Finally, the third concerns the “new networks” with, for example, what is known as self-consumption of biogas and also the collection of raw gases, to carry out a centralized purification and injection for economic optimization purposes.

A vast program that mobilizes our teams

In 2019, we developed an initial 2020-2030 roadmap with GRTgaz, and then initiated a similar process with PRCI in North America. We hope, in the short term, to be able to assist other network operators in defining their objectives. This is an important lever for identifying efforts that can be pooled and benefit from the solid expertise of our RICE teams.

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