Europe’s Largest Private Biomethane Deal to Drive Arkema’s Sustainable 3D Printing Materials

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French energy company Engie (EPA: ENGI) announced it would supply 300 gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable biomethane per year to local chemical company Arkema (EPA: AKE) for the next decade. This historic deal aligns with Arkema’s pioneering vision for sustainable material production. It will enable it to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of its bio-based high-performance flagship Rilsan polyamide (PA) 11 and Pebax Rnew thermoplastic elastomers.

As one of Europe’s largest advanced materials developers, Arkema is ahead of the game, having developed its bio-based materials more than seven decades ago. These high-performance, specialty polymers, and elastomers are derived from renewable castor beans grown in India that already offer a substantially lower carbon footprint compared to equivalent fossil-based materials.

Although the polymer brand has become a renowned household name in France for its differentiated performance and 100 percent bio-based products, its Rilsan PA 11 went from “humble beginnings” in textiles, fibers, brushes, and pipes to gaining recognition in specialized applications like additive manufacturing. In fact, Arkema’s bio-circular materials are now widely used in 3D printing, particularly for powder bed fusion (PBF), pellets, filaments, and even vat polymerization.

3D printed bearing part with Rilsan PA 11. Image courtesy of Arkema.

The polymer firm announced an increased focus on 3D printing materials research in 2015 and has since been heavily involved with the technology. In 2021, Arkema purchased a 10 percent stake in Erpro 3D Factory (E3DF) – a French startup specializing in large-series 3D printing that uses PA 11 – and has engaged in several partnerships with AM businesses, like Carbon.

Arkema is committed to meeting the decarbonization challenge with innovative technologies and applications focused on sustainability. Today, the company ranks among the top-performing companies in the “chemicals” category of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI). With a score of 83 out of 100 on Standard & Poor’s Global Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA).

Local production

Described as the largest private biomethane deal in Europe to date, the new supply agreement promises to reduce the carbon footprint of Rilsan PA 11 – produced at Arkema’s Serquigny plant – while supporting the biomethane sector in France, where Engie is one of the leading players with a market capitalization of around €33.5 billion. The energy firm, partly controlled by the French government owing to a 23.64% ownership stake, is betting heavily on biomethane. To that end, the group recently inaugurated three new methane units in France capable of producing almost 100 GWh. This, along with other moves, will help the company accelerate its biomethane production, which is expected to reach 4 Terawatt-hour (TWh) by 2030.

Renewable gases perfectly complement electricity-based renewable energies and can be actively used to decarbonate the energy mix. Biomethane is a renewable alternative and one way for Europe to reduce its dependence on natural gas – 45% of which comes from Russia. It has a lower carbon footprint and is produced through the fermentation of organic matter. In France, the feedstock for biomethane is particularly respectful of the environment, says Arkema, with more than 95% coming from the fermentation of agricultural residues and waste and with no competition with food. Moreover, its production allows it to be easily stored and used when needed.

Engie Senior Executive VP Paulo Almirante said, “At Engie, we believe that biomethane will play an essential role in the European energy mix and will be a key vector for decarbonizing the energy usages of our clients. This landmark deal definitely represents a major boost in the energy-intensive chemical industry and further establishes Engie as a reference biomethane player in Europe.”

Emerging Solutions

A historical client of Engie, Arkema, is also exploring opportunities for collaborations with other industry participants to support the continuous improvement of renewable biomethane production in France. Currently, around 300 biogas and biomethane projects are underway in the country. According to data from December 2021, France has 365 facilities injecting biomethane into natural gas networks that produce around 6.4 TWh per year.

Although many European countries are pressing for more biogas and biomethane production, not everyone in France is convinced that scaling up is environmentally sound. In 2022, French residents opposed big infrastructure projects, like the Métha Herbauges in Northern France, concerned about pollution. In addition, other issues like the persistent red tape in the country collaborated to delay many biomethane projects.

Engie biogas plant. Image courtesy of Engie.

Through this new 10-year partnership, Engie will provide Arkema with 3 TWh of biomethane to support the group’s decarbonization journey and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Interested in learning more about Arkema? Visitors at the Additive Manufacturing Strategies (AMS) live business and networking summit beginning February 7, 2023, in New York can attend the “New Developments in AM Materials” session, where they will hear from Arkema Global Business Director for 3D Printing Brad Rosen and many others discussing the future of AM composites and polymers. Register for the event here.

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