National media tour explores decarbonization projects in Aix-Marseille-Provence

National media tour explores decarbonization projects in Aix-Marseille-Provence
14 April 2022 / Eco-industries, Energy

A two-day itinerary to report on the present and the future

A dozen journalists from Paris, representing specialized press and national media outlets, accepted an invitation to explore the region and its decarbonization efforts on April 6 and 7.

The goal was to show them how the stakeholders in the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis ‒ corporations, local authorities and start-ups ‒ are committed to meeting the challenge of global warming. As part of its collective influence program, Provence Promotion led the delegation for two days to showcase the region's economic attractiveness. From the Technopôle de l'Environnement Arbois-Méditerranée in Aix-en-Provence, to the Tour La Marseillaise in downtown Marseille, this press tour examined the present and future of the energy transition.

In its sixth assessment report, the IPCC calls for immediate action to limit global warming. The Mediterranean basin and its major urban agglomerations, including the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis, are at the top of the list of priority regions.

Mindful of these challenges, the economic ecoystem in Aix-Marseille is innovating and investing at all levels. Concrete commitments have been made in the areas of air and sea transport, heavy industry and digital technology. Major groups are leading projects to decarbonize manufacturing activities and transform processes to significantly reduce CO2 emissions.

Interxion, a global data center provider with four facilities in Marseille, France, implemented a cooling solution in November 2021 that uses far less energy than conventional systems. It is called River Cooling and came out of a collaboration with Dalkia Smart Building and the EDF Group.
Some €15 million have been invested to divert underground water from an old industrial facility and create a circular ecology facility that use heat exchange to generate the cold air flows needed to ensure the computer servers function properly. Eventually, this solution will cover the heating needs of 500,000 m2 of offices and homes in the Euroméditerranée district.

Local authorities are also pursuing a proactive energy efficiency policy which was presented to journalists at a press conference with:
- Martine Vassal – President of the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis and President of the Bouches-du-Rhône Department,
- Jean-Luc Chauvin – President of the Aix-Marseille-Provence Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Vice-President of Provence Promotion, 
- Bernard Deflesselles – President of Provence Promotion, Member of Parliament for the Bouches-du-Rhône and Metropolitan Councilor.

For example, since 2017, the Metropolis has been managing France's first technology park dedicated to the environment, the Technopôle de l'Environnement de l'Arbois-Méditerranée, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2021. In fact, this space devoted to green and sustainable innovations is where the journalists started their recon mission to learn about decarbonization in Provence.

Worldwide recognition for Aix-en-Provence's CleanTech

The technology park was ranked number four in the world in the CleanTech field, behind Perth, Berlin and Boston, according to the 2020 classification by the IASP (International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation). Since 2017 it has been home to a CleanTech business incubator where start-ups thrive. Out of the 13 French start-ups recognized at the 2022 CES in Las Vegas, five Arbois alumni won an award.

The incubator is currently home to 44 budding companies in the development stage.

Three of them were invited to present their technologies to journalists:

  • NepTech, which designs a range of electro-hydrogen propulsion catamarans ranging from 12 to 24 meters that can carry up to 150 passengers or 20 tons of cargo.
  • Entent, created by two engineers from Polytech Marseille who are developing a patented technology that can generate electricity from low-temperature heat between 60 °C and 100 °C. This industrial waste is currently not being recovered, but it could be in the near future thanks to their Pulse engine.
  • Sakowin Green Energy, which focuses on producing hydrogen from methane with no CO2 emissions to replace hydrocarbons. This solution breaks down CH4 into hydrogen gas and solid carbon for industrial applications.

Homes in Marseille supplied with methanized gas

While these projects point to carbon reduction solutions for the future, the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis is already making a name for itself with tangible achievements, notably in Marseille, where the largest biomethane unit in France is scheduled came on line in 2019.

Thanks to a €9.2 million investment by the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis, SUEZ, the Rhone-Mediterranean-Corsica Water Agency, the Southern Region and ADEME, the Sormiou sludge plant has been transformed to host the installations needed to produce biogas that can be fed into the domestic natural gas network.

From the Geolide wastewater treatment plant in Marseille, the sludge becomes a resource that produces 27 million thermal kW per year. This renewable energy source currently powers 2,500 homes in the Soude district and meets the covers the needs of the plant itself, making it not only self-sufficient but also energy positive.

Designed to accommodate a future expansion to 41 million thermal kW, this installation, the largest in France, is a landmark achievement in the energy transition and circular ecology. It captivated the journalists during their tour.

Pivoting towards the low-carbon energies of the future

To accelerate the region's energy transition and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, major industrial players are banking on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and, in the future, on BioLNG with a unique port project in France based on methanizing the city's waste. This new substitute for fossil fuels will further decarbonize logistics activities, from road to sea transport. The CMA CGM Group already has 27 CMA CGM vessels powered by LNG. The first ship-to-ship LNG bunkering operation for the container ship "CMA CGM Bali" was carried out at the Port of Marseille-Fos in January 2022.

To supply surface carriers, the region also has bunkering capacity that positions it as a Euro-Mediterranean hub.

Jean-Michel Diaz, Regional Delegate for TotalEnergies and President of the GMIF, and Claire Martin, VP Sustainability & Executive Director at CMA CGM, gave an overview of all of these projects, as well as those related to hydrogen production, which also has a bright future in Aix-Marseille-Provence, notably with the Massylhia project.

Airbus Helicopters an aeronautics player that is heavily involved in developing biofuels. In November 2021, the first flight powered 100% by sustainable aviation fuel, SAF, took off from Marignane. As explained by Roxanne Randazzo, CSR Manager at Airbus Helicopters, this involvement is fully in line with the group's innovation dynamic.

The journalists who took part in this overview of Aix-Marseille's ambitions also visited Cadarache to see the Iter site, the immense international scientific project to research nuclear fusion technology with the goal of replicating the sun's energy.