This Issue Brief highlights the need to better understand the controversies surrounding the development of biomethane in France (production potential, environmental impact) in order to advance several important sectoral transitions, notably in transport, agriculture and energy. It therefore proposes an initial mapping of the main fields of political controversy as well as a method for investigating them—and ideally overcoming them—through a collective expertise approach.

Key Messages

  • Biomethane can technically replace natural gas in all its current uses, and can even be developed for new applications. But the existence of alternatives, the relatively high cost of biomethane compared with fossil fuels, and the severe constraints on biomass resources raise the question of prioritising its uses between different sectors: building, transport, industry and the power sector.
  • The potential for biomethane production (the volume available) in France is decisive in this context, but it is also controversial. The available estimates are based on different visions of the evolution of agricultural systems in which methanization would fit; they also depend on contrasting assumptions as to production methods (raw materials, size of methanizers, etc.) and the conditions for its sustainable development in agro-environmental terms.
  • Three main groups of controversies have been identified: those relating to the agro-environmental impacts of methanization, for which little empirical data is yet available; those questioning the links between the cost and environmental impacts of biomethane; and finally, controversies relating to the uses of biomethane in the energy system (this includes non-energy uses, also known as "material" uses, of biomethane in industry).
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