With the FARBIO project, 4D PIONEERS and the UCCS laboratory are shaking up the codes of biomethane production with a disruptive scientific approach.
4D PIONEERS and the UCCS laboratory, supported by the Hauts de France region, have decided to combine their know-how to improve the profitability of biogas production units by designing a new generation of structured, modular and compact catalytic reactors manufactured by 3D printing.
Interview with Maxence RENAUX, FARBIO project coordinator at 4D Pioneers.
What is methanation, commonly confused with methanization?
Methanation, not to be confused with methanization (Figure 1), is a chemical process that consists of producing methane (CH_4) from carbon dioxide (CO_2) and hydrogen (H_2). This chemical reaction, called the Sabatier reaction, takes place in the presence of a catalyst and under specific temperature and pressure conditions. The diagram below explains very well the differences between these two
Figure 1- Biomethane production process by methanization and methanation (source: https://methycentre.eu/concept/)
This process has many interests. On the one hand, it allows to produce biomethane which can be injected in the natural gas network and thus to produce green energy. In addition, it allows to use CO_2, either from the air, or from the results of human activity (Figure 1). Indirectly, it participates in a more global process of energy storage. Indeed, the production of electricity via renewable energies (wind and solar) but also via fossil energies can generate a surplus of production that it would be interesting to be able to store in order to be able to reuse this surplus later. In this objective, it is possible to use a part of this surplus energy in order to carry out the electrolysis of water and thus generate oxygen O_2 and dihydrogen H_2. The latter gas can be stored for later use, e.g. as fuel for vehicles or injected into a methanation reactor to be transformed into methane in combination with CO2.
Thus, in addition to valorizing green hydrogen, the methanation process also allows the valorization of carbon dioxide from the methanization of organic waste. Methanation is therefore a green process, which allows to produce biomethane that could fully contribute to the objectives of the energy transition for a green growth.
What is the current situation and what are the objectives of France and Europe for the production of biomethane?
In France, the injection of biomethane (from methanation and methanization) into the gas network has jumped by more than 80% between 2019 and 2020.
But this is absolutely not enough in view of recent geopolitical events (war in Ukraine and soaring gas prices) and natural gas supply problems. The French government has a clear objective to intensify biogas production.
This is also true for Europe which wants to multiply by 10 the production of biomethane to reach 35 billion cubic meters in a few years.
The new generation catalytic reactor developed in the FARBIO project will undoubtedly make a significant contribution to the European effort.
What can you tell us about the FARBIO project without violating the project's confidentiality rules?
The FARBIO project aims to develop a new generation catalytic methanation reactor improving the profitability of biogas production units by increasing the quantity of biomethane produced.
Additive manufacturing is the process of choice for developing this new catalytic reactor. Indeed, it makes it possible to manufacture complex and innovative geometries, difficult to achieve by conventional forming processes.
We are going to work on different technological bricks including the design of the catalytic support, the choice of the material, its manufacture by 3D printing, the surface treatment, the characterization and the setting of the performances of the reactor.
This project is perfectly in line with our two areas of expertise: catalysis and CO2 recovery for UCCS, and hybrid additive manufacturing and the formulation of functional and printable materials for 4D Pioneers.
A great scientific and industrial challenge in prospect for the two teams who intend to take it up by pooling their technical and scientific skills.