The energy price threatens the anaerobic digestion sector

“Anaerobic digestion is not a calm river”: if in France more and more farmers are tempted to recover their waste to produce gas and generate new income, the economic situation and the increase in energy prices threaten the development of the sector .

“If there wasn’t anaerobic digestion, I may not be there anymore”, says François Trubert, farmer of cows and poultry. Based in Gévezé north of Rennes, this farmer who started to biogas production 11 years ago, it does not hide its pride in securing its financial and energy autonomy.

In front of his dome-shaped tank, this naturally energetic entrepreneur explains how his biogas plant works, which he supplies with 30 tons of material a day, mostly organic manure and corn husks. From fermentation, it produces an equivalent fossil natural gas, which it converts into electricity from cogeneration.

“I can put 150 kilowatts of energy in the network”, or the consumption of 200 families, assures the breeder, whose voice is covered by the noise of the engine that converts its gas into electricity.

After investing one million euros, he boasts of producing 240,000 Kwh of electricity from which he makes a profit of around 100,000 euros, after deducting operating costs, energy, material purchases and salaries.

Under contract with a local energy operator, he is also happy to heat his house, running water and chicken coop.

This pioneer of the sector in Brittany also wants to warn other farmers tempted by adventure: “methanation is not a calm river”. “The message is vigilance (…) you need an operation in good financial condition” and expansion projects must “be commensurate with the size” of the farm, he underlines.

“Restrictions Accumulation”

In the context of the war in Ukraine and increase in energy pricesthe sector is now facing a “cumulation of constraints”, estimates Mauritz Quaak, vice-president of the Association of Methanizer Farmers of France (AAMF).

Since 2017, the average cost of an installation has increased from 4.5 to 6 million euros. Consequence: project managers repay loans at higher rates.

Since November, the sector has also seen incentive energy tariffs produced and revised downwards for new contracts, from 6 to 15% depending on the type of system.

Surprisingly, the biogas farmers who could be considered the big winners of the energy price crisis are themselves caught out. Because in order to operate a biogas plant, it needs electricity, which it must buy at a high price.

And “it is the purchase at the market price of this electricity that puts the sector in difficulty”, underlines Hélène Berhault-Gaborit, facilitator at AAMF. cited by Web-agri.

“Whether you are a project manager, a manufacturer, you end up with an increase (in your electricity bill) from 100% to 400%. Unfortunately, there is a fatal threshold. Someone who will see his bill multiplied by three will be finished”, warns Mauritz Quaak, who issues a “warning message” to farmers.

In Iffendic (Ille-et-Vilaine), Gaec de Trevit, which operates with 200 dairy cows, turns manure into gas.

“We talk a lot about food sovereignty, we talk about energy (…) we have a foot in each,” boasts Frédéric Pillet, 42 years old. With five partners, he invested €3.5 million three years ago in a methanizer that supplies “at least 1,500 homes” with gas injected directly into the local grid.

If this farmer assured in October that his project was still profitable, the increase in the cost of running his methanizer will eat into his margins.

In Brittany, the local energy agency AILE identified in September 2022, 211 methanation units in operation and at the beginning of last year about a hundred in projects, second only to Grand-Est.

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