Walloon biomethane, a credible and local alternative to imported gas?

Anything that heats with gas has been driving up its energy bill in recent months. Thus, the bill of almost €20 per MWh for imported natural gas has quintupled two years ago, between the economic recovery and post-war energy market fears in Ukraine causing the meters. But the Walloon biomethane produced from food waste has remained stable: “There is a lot of diesel to be filled into the machines here, but it affects a maximum of a few percent, not to such an extent.”pays tribute to Jérôme Breton, who runs a biomethanation plant in Bons Villers, north of Charleroi.

With a fixed price of almost €80 per MWh, this upgraded biogas, which has always been considered expensive (3 to 4 times more expensive than imported gas), is now significantly cheaper. “And we have the guarantee that the price will remain stable over the years since its production is not subject to geopolitics. As long as there is farming and processing plants to make fries from potatoes, for example, the price is known in advance and does not vary.”

Since October 2020, the Bois d’Arnelle plant in the fields north of Charleroi has been producing 1,500 cubic meters of gas per hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 60,000 tons of waste are converted into biogas there, with the products partly grown on site by local farmers (maize cultivation) and partly by local farmers (beet leaves, straw, manure) or by factories within a 15km radius of Les Bons Villers (potato peelings, etc. ). After biomethanation, the residues can be used as fertilizer on the fields. With Ores, the distribution network manager, this green, renewable and local gas is distributed in the network and supplies nearby homes.

“We have installed a booth at the edge of the site to feed the produced gas directly into the general network”explains Nicolas Claude, Gas Strategy Manager at Ores. “In the cabin we ensure the quality of the gas – so that it can be used by the boilers like imported gas without any additional adjustments – and we add the characteristic smell, for safety in case of a leak, because the gas is naturally odorless.”

The Bois d’Arnelle biomethane plants benefit nearly 3,000 households, the equivalent of Bons Villers’ unit (9,000 inhabitants), from biomethane produced close to their homes.

Is this the future? For Ores and Jérôme Breton, who has been fighting for almost 12 years for his project to see the light of day, it is very clear: “With the other initiatives in Fleurus and Quevy, almost 10,000 customers are now supplied with Walloon gas, which is not much compared to the 700,000 homes that heat with gas, but that’s just the beginning.”we are doing at Ores, where other projects with private investors are already being studied. “The most important lever that needs to be removed is clear legislation on the question of feeding biomethane into the grid.” Jérôme Breton agrees, he’s spent the last five years trawling cabinets of ministers to get his project off the ground: “Today it’s much too complicated, on the one hand nobody starts except crazy people like me, and then the question of price is not optimal: I advocate a higher remuneration, maybe between 90 and 100 euros per MWh, because, for example, we are not profitable here in the long term are, we have to expand to achieve economies of scale and we are five employees and two self-employed as backup if we should be at least eight do the job.” Its infrastructure in the Bois d’Arnelle has already cost more than 15 million euros.

“On the other hand, with clear regulations and a slightly cheaper price point, investors have a clear idea of ​​the possibilities and are ready to go.”don’t doubt Jérôme Breton. “The installation I have developed here in Les Bons Villers can be done on a smaller scale directly by the farmers themselves. We are already seeing this in France.”

Words in which Ores finds himself. “By 2030, we want to exploit 50% of Wallonia’s biomethane potential, which corresponds to around 25% of total consumption in the region”says Nicolas Claude. “And by 2050 we want to realize 100% of this potential. It meets the authorities’ climate targets, particularly because biomethane produces less CO2 than gas, which produces less than oil anyway. Then, in this transition period, where gas is still seems essential to us, we’ll see if the development of alternatives like hydrogen or others can take over. But as it stands, given Walloon buildings, given the energy needs, anything related to electricity is not a viable future.”

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