News - November 3, 2023

The value of waste

Written by Bertrand Piccard

We live in a wasteful world.

Beyond this obvious fact, we find the cause of most pollution and climate change. We waste 75% of energy, half the food we produce and a huge proportion of natural resources. Not just through misguided behaviour, but often as a result of outdated and inefficient infrastructures. What is less well known is the value of everything we throw away. And yet we waste 95% of the waste we produce. It's a vicious circle that's sending us hurtling towards the wall.

Yet there are many solutions, at different scales and in different sectors. From our household waste to food and industrial waste, the world is slowly realising the potential that this represents. So while it's important to reduce waste before or after consumption, the waste we produce by default is not the end of the process.

This is why the Wagabox technology, developed by Waga Energy, a spin-off from the Air Liquide Group, makes it possible to produce biomethane from landfill gas to replace natural gas of fossil origin.

Landfill gas is biogas generated by the fermentation of organic matter contained in waste, mixed with various volatile organic compounds produced by its decomposition. Wagabox recovers 90% of the methane contained in landfill gas, which would otherwise dissipate into the atmosphere with a greenhouse effect 28 times greater than CO2. The gas is then cooled to cryogenic temperature to separate the methane from the oxygen and nitrogen, injecting biomethane 24 hours a day into the gas networks that transport it to the places where it is consumed. The environmental and economic benefits are staggering: since 2017, Wagabox has already injected more than 72 million cubic metres of biomethane into the networks, thereby avoiding the emission of around 140,000 tonnes of CO2e per year into the atmosphere by replacing fossil natural gas. This represents the annual emissions from around 60,000 cars.

This French technology has been successfully exported in recent months. In Canada, Spain and the USA, Wagabox is becoming a benchmark in the biomethane sector. A unit is due to start up in a few months' time in New York State, and four others are already under construction in the north-east of the United States and in Iowa. All of this will make it possible to produce gas as a substitute for fossil natural gas, by capturing the biogas emitted by the organic matter in waste. It has also attracted the interest of major companies such as Veolia and SUEZ, who have since been working with Waga Energy.

I often end this column by underlining the logic of some of the solutions described here and identified by the Solar Impulse Foundation, thanks to its label. But what more can you add in the face of so much evidence? Wagabox is an innovative French company, at the cutting edge of its field, which saw potential in something of no apparent value: the opportunity to move the lines and replace fossil fuel energy with clean energy, which was literally evaporating into thin air. This is the pioneering spirit that I so admire in those who are making the ecological transition.

*This article is taken from Les Echos/Investir, where Bertrand Piccard writes a monthly column*.

Written by Bertrand Piccard on November 3, 2023

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