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French energy firm will invest $23 million in hemp-fueled gas plant

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French startup Qairos Energies said it will invest nearly €18.8 million ($23 million) in its planned facility that will turn locally grown hemp into hydrogen and methane. 

Qairos, based in Mareil-en-Champagne, said its hydrogen output will be converted into electricity for fuel cells to power buses and trains. The factory will also produce methane for Gaz Réseau Distribution France, the exclusive distributor of natural gas in France and the leading distributor in Europe.

Pyrogasification

The facility, to be located in Trangé, near Le Mans in northwestern France, is based on pyrogasification technology, an alternative to electrolysis. Pyrogasification consists of heating biomass at high temperatures in the presence of a small amount of oxygen, which converts the material into gas while also producing CO2 and heat. The waste-free process eliminates the tars that result from some refining methods.

Qairos said it will source local hemp within a 35-kilometer radius of its Trangé facility, with members of Fermiers de Loué, an agriculture cooperative, supplying the biomass. The company in 2020 conducted hemp trials as part of establishing industrialization and development processes. Qairos said it will eventually need hemp from 1,000 hectares for full operations.

Access to energy network

The 3,500 sq. m facility, 9 meters tall, has 15-meter tall air intakes and exhausts, and sits on a total industrial plot of ​​23,000 sq. m. The company’s building and other permits allow it to inject synthetic methane into France’s energy network. 

The plant will have a maximum production capacity of 3.6 tons of hydrogen per day, but the company said its goal is to turn out roughly 2 tons per day of hydrogen and 200 cubic meters of methane. Qairos said 25 to 30 workers will be needed to operate the new facility.

Kévin Collet, associate director at Qairos, said that while pyrogasification is already well established in Europe, introducing hemp into the production chain marks an innovation.

The project has received support from investment bank Bpifrance and the Pays de la Loire region, and continues to seek financing via KPMG.

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