State – Regions

The French State is fostering the development of green chemistry

The French State intended to foster the development of green chemistry, in line with the government’s “Grenelle” environmental policies. The French chemical industry’s shift towards this activity – notably in the Picardy and Champagne-Ardenne regions – will enable it to decrease its dependence on fossil fuels; In 2007, the chemical industry committed to diversifying its feedstocks; by 2017, 15% of the raw materials used in the industry’s processes will be plant-derived. This change will improve the re-use of green waste (which currently lacks outlets) and thus should also provide long-term benefits to the agricultural sector.

On September 27, 2011, French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Novance’s industrial facility in the town of Compiegne and spoke in favour of using biosourced feedstocks in chemical processes; this shows how much importance is attached to this theme on the state level. A biorefinery is due to be built in Compiegne as part of the Picardie-based PIVERT project (led by the company Sofiprotéol and the IAR cluster). The PIVERT project will focus on the development of third-generation biorefineries for the added-value use of oil seed crops and forest biomass in a range of applications. Public- and private-sector research providers will work together on a technology park and will make PIVERT one of the top institutes in the field of green chemistry. The French government has accredited this project as one of its Institutes of Excellence for Low-carbon Energy and will provide €65 million towards the total project cost (€219 million) over the next ten years. Furthermore, other state funding tools have been set up with a view to fostering the emergence of the green chemistry sector, notably via the FUI Single Interministerial Fund for financing cluster-accredited projects. In fact, the FUI has co-funded 17 projects accredited by the IAR cluster (including Chiomiosub, Acosite and Finather 3 in the Champagne-Ardenne region and BioTfuel and BioH2 in Picardie), with a total of €60 million. Lastly, the French Environment Agency (ADEME) was awarded a 2010 budget of €1.35 billion to foster the deployment of demonstrator projects in the fields of renewable energy and green chemistry.

The biorefinery concept is especially valuable because it should have an extremely positive impact on inward investment and economic development in rural areas. By helping to structure an entire sector around this theme, the French State is thus seeking to re-industrialize the areas concerned and ensure the long-term survival of the farming sector. This policy prompted the award of funding to the Biorefinery Research and Innovation (BRI) facility in the Champagne-Ardenne region, for example. By bringing together public-sector education and research, private-sector R&D providers, industrial businesses and agricultural stakeholders (for providing the feedstocks), the BRI project is set to generate the innovative products, processes and skills that should trigger the emergence of a new sector.

The French State is keen for this sector to grow so that the economic benefits can be shared between the various stakeholders through sustainable, local economic development. As such, the French State is delighted to accompany the IAR cluster in its activities in favour of a more sustainable development.

The Champagne-Ardenne Region

The Champagne-Ardenne Regional Council considers that the biorefinery is an effective tool for the local anchorage of sector-wide economic activities, from production through to processing. It is an effective means of creating added value and local employment.

The Champagne-Ardenne region has a strong agricultural tradition (with winemaking and cereal farming as particularly strengths) and has attracted food industry and agricultural companies as a result. One in 15 of the region’s inhabitants works in the agricultural sector.

The biorefinery concept was generated by visionaries from the farming profession back in the 1990s, with a view to identifying non-food added-value uses for agricultural products – even though food production is and will remain a high priority. This concept prompted the creation of the Agro-industry Research and Development (ARD) institute and thus federated the human and financial resources of the region’s agricultural cooperatives.

The value-added exploitation of agricultural resources (particularly via the biorefinery) is a structural theme in the Champagne-Ardenne region’s innovation policy. The biorefinery sector is being championed by the IAR cluster and is catalysing regional innovation both upstream (i.e. fundamental research) and downstream (industrial development). The Regional Council thus supports thus high-profile initiatives that confirm Champagne-Ardenne as a precursor in the field of biorefining.

A few examples illustrate the Regional Council’s commitment to this sector:

  • the constitution of a centre of excellence in white (industrial) biotech, led jointly by regional antennae of the Ecole Centrale Paris and AgroParisTech.
  • the Biorefinery Research and Innovation facility on the Reims-Pomacle site, which will coordinate not only the research activities developed by ARD and the new centre of excellence in white biotech but also the development of industrial pilot facilities such as BIODEMO (for white biotech) and FUTUROL (for second-generation biofuels).
  • the provision of funding for many different research programmes with industrial deliverables, such as the production of synthons, biomaterials, paper paste and so on.

The Picardie Region

The Picardie region is now at the cutting edge of the agro-resources sector – thanks notably to the IAR cluster.

With the impetus provided by pioneers and shared, strategic decisions taken early on, the Picardie region has successively committed itself to the agro-resource sector by redefining its agricultural and industrial identity. The region is now celebrating 30 years of that commitment and the corresponding prospects for growth in research, technology transfer, resource production and employment.

The success of the PIVERT project – Europe’s first centre for transforming oil seed crop feedstocks into renewable compounds for a range of industrial applications – is proof of the region’s ambitions in this field.

The early 1980s was a time when questions were being asked about the future of Picardie’s farming sector. The region had assets (such as large-scale crop production and an industrial heritage, despite problems in the textile sector) and handicaps (notably a lack of research infrastructure and providers). A 1982 regional research and technology summit (the Assises de la Recherche et de la Technologie) marked the start of the region’s strategic positioning.

A small group of pioneers – visionaries, in fact – suggested the renewal of the close collaboration between agriculture and industry that had existed in medieval times, when the Picardie region exported sheets of cloth dyed in what was known as “Amiens blue” (an indigo dyestuff extracted from locally grown woad).

The Picardie Regional Council, the French State, businesses and universities launched themselves into the biotech adventure, with a view to the production and non-food exploitation of agro-resources.

Step by step, the partners implemented a strategy for innovation and development and set up the Association for the Development of Research and Technology in Picardie (ADRTP) as the main coordinator.

Very soon, the Picardie region started to create tools for fostering industrial projects based on agro-resources. The CVG technical centre for carbohydrates and natural products was created in 1984 on the initiative of the Picardie Regional Council and the French Ministries of Research and Agriculture. The centre’s main goal was to identify new uses for crop components and develop new green chemistry processes (using water instead of organic solvents) and biomaterials (e.g. the use of starch in bioplastics).

The ADRTP (since renamed as the Regional Innovation Agency) has been behind a range of initiatives, such as the Agro-transfert ressources et territoires agricultural technology transfer organization, the regional company incubator and the IAR cluster.

The region’s universities rapidly focused on agro-resource research, as embodied by creation of a Carbohydrates Laboratory at Jules Verne University of Picardie in the early 1980s, the development of biotech skills at Compiegne University of Technology, the creation of a diploma in agro-healthcare at the ISAB agricultural college (now the Institut Polytechnique LaSalle-Beauvais) and, most recently, the arrival of the Ecole Supérieure de Chimie Organique et Minérale school of chemistry in Compiegne.

Imagination, innovation and production: the shared commitment to agro-resources by the Picardie region’s stakeholders heralds promising developments in this sector. Indeed, since 2006, the Picardie Regional Council has awarded more than €30 million in funding to agro-resource projects (academic and collaborative research projects, support for technical facilities and technology transfer centres, etc.), with a view to using the plant as a whole and replacing petrochemicals with plant-derived compounds.

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