Miscanthus plantation as a biomass source for energy production in France
In a world faced with dwindling fossil fuels and climate change, the production of renewable carbon is all-important. In France, renewable energy represents around 14% of national energy consumption and has target to reach 23% in total energy production by 2020. Therefore, the plantation of miscanthus as biomass for energy production is one alternative to meet the goal.
1.Description of miscanthus plantation
Miscanthus is a C4 perennial, hybrid, sterile and non-invasive plant of the Poaceae family, native to southeastern Asia. This plant has the remarkable ability to adapt to different environments and thus making it suitable for energy production in European conditions.
Today, in France, it has become a leading crop for production of lignocellulosic feedstocks for both bio-energy and material uses. Indeed, its great photosynthetic efficiency, high biomass yield capacity, low input demands, low moisture content after harvest and many other superior characteristics, make miscanthus an up-and-coming biomass crop. In addition, it is very efficient at using nutrients because its rhizome system can recycle nutrients from soil and above ground biomass for subsequent growing cycles (up to 20 years) and subsequent crop.
In the last decades, miscanthus has been introduced in France and its cultivation has increased year by year, especially, in the Bourgogne Region (Eastern France). It is used as feedstock to produce pellet for industrial installations, combined with wood or coal and also, in the form of mulch or granules and for domestic or collective uses (boilers).
Figure 1 : iconic miscanthus heating projects in France (2017)
Figure 2 . Outlets distribution
2.Description of the market
Recently, above 5000 hectares of miscanthus cultivation is done in metropolitan France, with an increase of 10% per year.
The implementation costs is around 3000 € / ha, soil preparation, weeding and year 1 grinding cost is 300 € / ha. In total, the cost is 400 € / ha for a period of 15 years.
Miscanthus has lower heat value between 17 to 20 MJ per kg. The price is about €29/Mwh, which is comparatively expensive than the wood chips (€ 20 to € 22).
At present, growers hesitate to cultivate it because, it involves dedicating their fields for long-term biomass production. They will only be willing to do this once biomass markets are stable or if long-term contracts are available.
3.Description of the policy measures
In order to promote the renewable energy sources as the miscanthus plantation, the French government help this ecological transition:
- Miscanthus cultivation is included in the list of species eligible for areas of ecological interest (EIS) since 2017 (subsidizes)
- The boilers conversion premium is maintained (up to 3,000 euros) with the target of 1 million oil-fired boilers replaced in the five-year period, with the prospect of an exit from oil heating within ten years.
- The zero-rate eco-loan is opened as soon as one type of work is carried out (boiler change for example).
- 71 billion euros of support for renewable energies (electricity, biogas, renewable heat) for the next 10 years.
Moreover, local measures and financial help exist trough the several organizations like ADEME (French Agency for the Environment), Chambers of Agriculture, Water Agency, Regional Council.
4.Evaluation of the effect of this measures
We notice an increasement of 10% by one observed in recent years of Miscanthus cultivation.
To my mind, this alternative energy source is an interesting innovative production. However, currently it is not really known and the production technology is inefficient. Biomass production costs for miscanthus are presently too high to compete commercially with fossil fuels on an energy basis. Miscanthus is also new to farmers and they have neither the knowledge nor the technical equipment to cultivate it. Farmers will be able to invest in this production only when biomass markets will be stable or if long-term contracts will be available.