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five French nuggets to follow closely for their breakthrough technologies

Carbon concocts a gigafactory of solar panels

A French gigafactory of solar panels. This is the crazy bet of the Lyon start-up Carbon, at a time when the European photovoltaic market is completely flooded with panels from Asia, which are driving prices down. But in a context where Europe’s energy sovereignty has become a crucial issue, Carbon intends to play its cards right.

It thus aims to enter the world’s top 10 solar panel manufacturers by 2030 thanks to the creation of an XXL plant with 15 to 20 GW of annual capacity, or more or less half of the installed power in Europe in the year 2021.

In detail, the start-up intends to integrate both the processing of ingots for the manufacture of wafers, the manufacture of cells, as well as the integration of photovoltaic modules in the form of panels.

The key to this ambitious industrial project: the creation of 2,000 direct jobs. It remains to convince investors…Carbon hopes to raise some 1.5 billion euros in investments in the coming years.

Reevco captures CO2 from industrial fumes using cryogenics

Air Liquide is not the only French company to have developed cryogenic CO2 capture technology. The start-up Reevco, also from Lyon, founded in 2020 by two young engineers, has also entered this vast decarbonization market. Its patented technology makes it possible to recover the CO2 emitted by manufacturers directly from their chimneys.

Very concretely, the fumes are sucked in and injected into the capture module. This performs a first sorting to isolate the C02 then the direct contact of liquefied nitrogen cooled to -196 degrees with industrial fumes causes the formation of CO2 flakes. Once captured, the CO2 is returned to liquid form for storage.

Called CarbonCloud, the technology is aimed at manufacturers whose fumes have low concentrations of CO2 (8 to 30%) and small volumes, unlike Air Liquide which targets fumes with very high concentrations of CO2. “Very concretely, we are essentially targeting metallurgy, cement, steel and lime production”, says Hugo Lucas, co-founder of the company with Paul Taton.

Reevco has already installed a pilot unit capable of capturing 2 tons of CO2 per day but which is not yet operating at full capacity. The start-up recently raised 3.5 million euros from a pool of investors to finance a second capture unit with a capacity 10 times greater with 20 tonnes of CO2 captured per day. Like the first, it will be installed on the site of the Eiffage lime quarry in Avesne-sur-Helpe in the North and should be operational by the end of 2023.

By 2026, Reevco intends to deploy around forty units. To seduce manufacturers, the young shoot ensures to be the least energy-consuming solution on the market. It claims a price of 30 euros per ton of CO2 captured, for 8 cents per kilowatt hour and 20% concentration of CO2 in the fumes.

Charwood goes public to mass-produce carbon-free syngas

The Breton Charwood is a specialist in biomass, which it exploits today mainly by combustion for heating networks and by methanation. But the company intends to accelerate on a third axis: pyrogasification, which consists of cooking biomass with very little oxygen, or even without oxygen. “This process makes it possible to obtain a synthetic gas which is called ‘syngas’, which can in particular replace natural gas [√©metteur de CO2, ndlr] in industrial processes, explains Adrien Haller, founder and managing director of the company.

Charwood has thus entered into a first contract with the Terreal group, which specializes in firing terracotta for the manufacture of building materials. “The use of our solution gives manufacturers visibility on energy prices, which constitute a significant part of their production costs. These are no longer indexed to the very volatile prices of the wholesale markets, but to production costs. It is also a carbon-free supply, unlike natural gas”underlines the founder.

More broadly, Charwood is targeting industrialists who are very large energy consumers such as manufacturers of terracotta, glass, food and wood giants. The company has set itself the goal of having 30 units in operation by 2027 and 20 under development. The biomass specialist also intends to deploy in Central Africa, Latin America and the French overseas departments and territories, regions which often use fuel oil to produce electricity and which could benefit from electricity cogenerated by pyrogasification. To accelerate its development, the Breton company recently listed on Euronext, where it raised 12.4 million euros. Charwood is already profitable.

Sakowin produces green hydrogen using methane

Water electrolysis is not the only technology for producing carbon-free hydrogen. Other processes can be used and this is what the start-up Sakowin Green Energy intends to do. The start-up is based on a technology that breaks down methane into gaseous hydrogen and solid carbon, which can then be reused in the concrete industry or in agriculture.

“Science tells us that a molecule of methane (CH 4) requires less energy to dissociate than a molecule of water (H 2 O)”, points out the company based in Aix-en-Provence. Its module, called “South Beach”, would thus consume five times less electricity than an electrolyser. It is installed directly on hydrogen consumption sites such as vehicle charging stations.

Directed by Gérard Gatt, the company has not yet passed the industrial stage. Its first prototype, which can produce up to 200 kg of hydrogen per day, should not see the light of day until 2025. Despite its still embryonic stage of development, Sakowin has managed to obtain the support of Bpifrance and EIC Accelerator, a flagship program launched by the European Innovation Council, which recently granted it funding of 6.5 million euros.

Naaera dreams of “greener” micro nuclear reactors

EDF is not the only French to work on a small modular nuclear reactor or SMR in the jargon for Small modular reactor. The very young company Naaera, officially founded last November, also intends to enter this vast market. But his project differs in many points from that led by the tricolor electrician. First Naaera is working on a extra small modular reactor, whose power should oscillate between 1 and 40 GW, against a range between 50 and 200 MW for most SMRs. It thus targets industrialists and local authorities.

Then, Naaera intends to rely on fourth-generation reactors, capable of operating thanks to radioactive materials already used, resulting from the electricity production of the current nuclear fleet. Objective: to considerably reduce the quantity of nuclear waste. Principle on which the Astrid research project was based, although it was abandoned three years ago by the CEA. The young shoot also intends to supply its reactors with thorium, a waste from mines, not used.

Very ambitious, the start-up, founded by Jean-Luc Alexandre and Ivan Gavriloff, aims to bring its first micro-power plant to market by 2030. As with SMRs, the idea is to drastically reduce production costs thanks to to a standardized approach and factory construction. Building a production line for micro nuclear reactors is obviously very capital intensive and the start-up should soon complete an initial fundraising of several tens of millions of euros. Other rounds of table should follow.