That’s the great unknown. Can Europe and France really do without Russian gas? The urgency is there and the paths taken at short notice are not necessarily ecological.
A company in the red
At Yara, the world’s leading nitrogen fertilizer, the explosion in the price of gas, which has quintupled after the conflict in Ukraine, is an immediate concern. To produce its agricultural fertilizers, the Norwegian group needs gas, which accounts for 80% of the price of ammonia. “Today we are economically unbalanced. This has forced the group to close factories, notably that of Le Havre and another one in Italy,” explains Daniel Ménard, the boss of the Montoir de Bretagne factory, which normally produces 2,000 tons of fertilizer a day.
The company has long been looking for alternatives to gas to produce the ammonia, but time is of the essence this time: “Sure, if you come back in a month, I can’t guarantee that the plant will be operational and continue to produce fertilizer,” concludes Daniel Menard.
Save, but no more
In France, a regulation obliges gas professionals to cover 85% of the country’s natural gas consumption between spring and January 1stah November. These reservoirs are huge underground reservoirs, geological pockets that receive gas that arrives via pipelines or ships. In Lussanet, in the Landes, at a depth of 500 meters, 25% of France’s reserves lie under the feet of Michel Boche, director of infrastructure projects at Teréga. This storage technology is “an absolutely strategic instrument. It obviously takes security of supply into account, makes it possible to react to the seasonality of demand, and to cushion price effects in winter when prices are more expensive.”
The Ukraine crisis does not change this operation, the injection campaign has begun, perhaps with additional pressure on those groups responsible for building reserves. Michel Boche is annoyed: “Today we have no particular urgency in the gas injection campaign. We cannot work in a hurry, we can fill our stocks excessively quickly,” he continues. In addition, France is one of the European countries that overstocks the most, the 85 percent rule also inspires Brussels to impose the same on other countries. A way to further secure the continent’s gas reserves.
LNG, immediate solution, but bad for the climate?
Store as much as you can, yes, but diversify too. The most obvious way to go without Russian gas is undoubtedly Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), 90% methane that is converted to a liquid state by cooling it to -161 °C. In this form it is 600 times less bulky than in a gaseous state, making it transportable by ship from producing countries such as the United States, Qatar, Australia, Algeria or Nigeria. Less bulky, but also five times more expensive than Russian gas. And yet Europe has little choice and therefore wants to import 50 billion cubic meters a year. “There is not enough LNG in the world today to replace the Russian gas that the European Union is buying,” disagrees Maxence Cordiez, engineer, author of Energies – Fake or not?, with Asian countries as the main buyers are moment.
In addition, LNG has a high carbon footprint: a gas that is converted and then transported by ship, potentially over long distances. “LNG emits more greenhouse gases than gas pipelines, mainly CO2 and methane,” explains Maxence Cordiez. Finally, this form of gas requires large investments in the ports of arrival. At the moment, Europe has a limited number of LNG terminals: Germany is urgently building some, France has only four colossal and long-term investments in this fossil fuel , a dependency from which the world should nevertheless free itself in the fight against global warming.
Is biogas the solution?
What if the abolition of Russian gas meant the introduction of another, more environmentally friendly gas? Biogas made from agricultural waste.
At the Evergaz methanation site near Angers, huge navy blue tanks receive solid, liquid and pasty waste: manure, manure, but also agricultural by-products such as animal skins, onion or carrot pulp, which are digested by bacteria for sixty days. This process produces biogas.
The European Commission plans to double the production of biomethane in one year. But it won’t happen in one day. In France, it is a very small percentage of the country’s gas consumption.
“Today, compared to Russian gas, we represent an alternative. By 2030, we will be able to replace 17% of French supplies with Russian gas. And as of today, we are able to produce self-sufficiently for 1.7 million households for cooking and heating,” enthuses Frédéric Flipo, Managing Director and founder of Evergaz. The Achilles’ heel of biogas has been its price, which has risen 4 to 5 times is higher than that of Russian gas.The crisis has rebalanced things.
It remains to develop biogas production capacities. “Even if we have been campaigning for biogas and biomethane since 2008, we unfortunately see that the crisis is an accelerator of awareness. This energy solution makes it possible to distribute a permanently available energy source across the territories,” boasts The CEO, who acknowledges that biogas “is not an immediate solution on the scale of France. On the other hand, at the local level, near our methanation sites, it is already a solution”.