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Third Industrial Revolution yields countless innovations

20 Jan 2015 | Advanced Materials

Inspired by the writings of US economist and visionary Jeremy Rifkin, Northern France has embarked on its own Third Industrial Revolution. Nord France Invest takes a closer look at selected innovations aimed at positioning our region at the forefront of the low-carbon economy by 2050.


Rio Tinto Alcan: making energy efficiency the top strategic priority

Rio Tinto Alcan is the aluminum industry’s top global player, producing bauxite, alumina and aluminum. As Europe’s largest producer of primary aluminum, the company’s plant at Loon-Plage near Dunkerque consumes half of all power generated by one of the reactors at the nuclear plant in nearby Gravelines. With consumption on that scale, improving energy performance is a constant concern. Which is why the Dunkerque plant is now one of Rio Tinto Alcan’s most efficient, consuming 13,100 kWh of electricity per metric ton of aluminum output even with a 25% rise in production. Other energy-saving moves include renovation of the plant’s central furnace and optimization of furnace regulation for carbon and smelting operations—solutions that have reduced natural gas consumption by 10% for carbon and 25% for smelting.

Mäder: new process for lighter materials may point to the cars of the future

A global breakthrough originating in Lille! Mäder, one of the world’s top producers of industrial paints, has developed a cold photopolymerization process that replaces certain metal parts with composites. Benefits include trimming vehicle weight by 20-30% and slashing fuel consumption to 2 liters per 100 km (141 miles/gallon). But that’s not all. Mäder has also signed an exclusive worldwide contract with auto equipment specialist Faurecia that could result in mass production of structural parts starting in 2017-2020. The new cold process will accelerate production cycles to one unit per minute with no additional energy or heat. Next challenge: replacing petroleum-based polymers with plant-based ones.

Roquette’s microalgae open new paths for tomorrow’s food

As a global leader in producing plant-based raw materials, Roquette makes sustainable development a corporate priority, and has now opened a production unit dedicated to microalgae at its Lestrem facility in Northern France. The move builds on eight years of research. It expands the company’s global presence in food, nutrition and health, and gives Roquette a foothold in the emerging microalgae market. The company’s new industrial unit is dedicated to chlorella, a nutrient-rich microalgae that is grown for a range of food ingredients. The plant can produce 4,000-5,000 tons a year using a patented fermentation process. But this is only the start—microalgae will soon offer innovative, sustainable solutions to meet tomorrow’s nutritional challenges, from obesity and seniors to food safety, well-being and more.


DBT-CEV in pole position to power the world’s electric cars

Charge up an electric car in less than 20 minutes—doable? Yes, thanks to Quick Charger, a long-awaited breakthrough by DBT-CEV, an SME in Northern France. The company’s production facility in Brebières now makes over 70% of the quick-charge points on offer in Europe. DBT is the technology of choice in 17 European countries, as well as Israel, South Africa, Russia and Australia. Most DBT chargers are installed at high-frequency points—from highway rest areas and supermarket parking lots to business parks and more. DBT-CEV has partnered with Renault-Nissan and is now outfitting 130 gas stations operated by the Auchan retail group, including 21 in Northern France. And some 20 million electric and hybrid cars projected to be on the road by 2020, global green mobility markets promise huge scope for growth—and a super-charged future for DBT-CEV.


Hydrogen-powered energy storage systems poised for full-scale testing in Dunkerque

Northern France plans to meet 100% of its energy needs through renewable resources by 2050. But intermittent wind and sun power require efficient storage—which is where the Dunkerque-based GRHYD network management project comes in. Project leader GDF Suez is working with 11 partners to convert surplus electricity into hydrogen that can be used directly. In addition to addressing key technical and energy-management challenges, the GRHYD project will test the economic viability of hydrogen-based energy.

On- and off-shore wind generates powerful innovations

In keeping with eco-targets set in France’s Grenelle blueprint, by 2020 Northern France will be producing some 1200 MW of wind-generated electricity a year, part through off-shore solutions. VoileO has built a sail-driven structure that increases yield by revolving to catch the wind, while Apple-wind has invented high-yield vertical-axis turbines with a revolutionary design that blends seamlessly into urban buildings and cityscapes. Acta Terra targets low-cost efficiency for the home, with a silent, modular wind-power system that regulates energy output over summer and winter, day and night. Onnaing-based DDIS has invented an all-new wind turbine that is lighter, more compact and continues to run during micro-power cuts. This economical, robust and reliable solution can also be deployed at sea. Finally, Lille-based start-up Nénuphar has just rolled out Vertiwind, an unusual turbine that just may be the innovation of the century. Designed for use at deep-sea sites, Vertiwind floats on the surface and features blades that revolve around a vertical axis.

EuroBioRef: creating tomorrow’s biorefinery—in Lille Region

In tomorrow’s economy, plant matter will replace petroleum as the raw material for high-value-added products. And with 90% of today’s products manufactured from conventional chemicals, the impact will be considerable. The EuroBioRef research project—a massive partnership between industry and academia—is designing the refineries that will lead this revolution in Europe. Under the leadership of Professor Franck Dumeignil, a researcher at Lille 1 University, EuroBioRef has generated four years of work and 33 patent filings—and has now met its goal: developing a new generation of biorefineries that can convert willow, castor beans, thistles and other biomass sources into high-value-added products such as aviation fuel, polymers and solvents. Nearly 30 EuroBioRef products are already on the market, including athletic shoes made from castor oil by Arkema, and Northern France may soon be home to dedicated bioresource plants.

Total launches BioTfueL project in Dunkerque

Oil and gas giant Total has launched a new effort to develop a second-generation biofuel from plant waste. The BioTfueL project, based at the former Flandres Refinery near Dunkerque, carries a price tag of €180 million and will be one of France’s biggest research projects. By late 2016, the Flandres site will host a pilot production plant for second-generation biodiesel and bio-jet fuel, and once the pilot has been built, the site will continue to spur advances in biofuel research by serving as a production center.


Réhafutur: experiment in green renovation

Réhafutur is an innovative, experimental green renovation project launched by cd2e, a team of environmental and business experts dedicated to supporting the environmental sector in Northern France. The goal: use eco-friendly materials to rehabilitate several former miners’ cottages in the northern French towns of Lens, Liévin and Loos-en-Gohelle. Once renovated, the newly energy-efficient cottages will serve as a showcase for green building techniques, and offer a forum where industry, researchers, and craftspeople can share ideas.

Artois-Flandres industrial park invests in REGAIN positive-energy building project

The REGAIN* building is the first positive-energy industrial building north of Paris. Built by Siziaf, the company that manages the Artois-Flandres industrial park, this innovative structure was designed using an HEQ process, meeting the Low-Energy Building standard for energy performance and incorporating other eco-friendly features such as green building materials, efficient use of rainwater, and good air quality. A photovoltaic roof makes the building more energy-efficient, and its bioclimatic design generates 40% of its heating needs by making optimum use of sunlight.

Espaciel deflector lets the sunshine in

Lille-based start-up Espaciel designs, manufactures and sells a proprietary light deflector that can be positioned in a window surround to redirect sunlight towards the inside of a room, increasing natural light by 50%. Installation—horizontal or vertical, interior or exterior—is easy: it requires no construction work and costs significantly less than enlarging the window. Benefits include increased natural lighting, no-cost heating in winter, more contact with the outside world and greater wellbeing for residents. The Espaciel deflector is an innovative, eco-friendly solution for poorly lit dwellings, especially in urban settings.


Source: Nord-Pas de Calais La troisième révolution industrielle en marche ! (available in the original French only at present)

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