Tag Archives: France

France is poised for a massive investment in nuclear energy, with six new reactors planned by 2050

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to announce a massive building effort by the French state energy company, EDF. The goal is to construct at least six new nuclear reactors by 2050, which will ensure the country’s continued supply of low-cost energy.

Image credits Markus Distelrath.

Nuclear energy gets a lot of bad rep these days, due to past (and admittedly, very damaging) accidental meltdowns. France, however, generates a lot of its energy requirements using nuclear power. It has been one of the largest producers of such energy since the 1970s. And it’s a safe bet to say that it will keep splitting the atom to keep the lights on: French President Emmanuel Macron is set to announce the construction of at least six new reactors over the next five decades.

French-made

“It (nuclear) is ecological, it enables us to produce carbon-free electricity, it helps give us energy independence, and it produces electricity that is very competitive,” a French presidential aide told reporters on Wednesday.

The initiative is not without its detractors, however. France has a bit of a history of spectacularly exceeding its budgets and timelines when building nuclear reactors. The state-run company EDF is already massively indebted from building efforts in France, Britain, and Finland. As an example, its flagship program — in the northern French province of Flamanville — is expected to cost over four times its initial budget (of 3.3 billion euros / 3.8 billion dollars) and will at best become operational next year, some 11 years later than expected. Yannick Jadot, one of the contenders for the French presidency, criticized Macron’s decision on these grounds.

Still, as part of this initiative, Macron will be visiting a turbine manufacturing site in eastern France on a pre-election visit in which he will detail his energy policy and stance on nuclear energy. Currently, the atomic industry covers around 70% of the energy requirements of the country.

According to presidential aides, Macron will be announcing the construction of at least six new reactors by EDF. He will also set out his vision “of our future energy mix, for nuclear but also renewables and energy efficiencies,” according to the aide.

Despite this, its reactors are aging, and France should be looking to replace them if nuclear energy is to remain a mainstay of its power grids.

The final outcome of this initiative depends entirely on the outcome of the French presidential elections in April. Most candidates have announced their intention to continue investing in the industry, although two candidates — hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Greens’ Yannick Jadot — oppose the continued use of nuclear power due to environmental concerns.

All in all, however, France seems to have thrown its hat squarely in the ring of nuclear power. Last month, it successfully lobbied for it to be labeled as “green” by the European Commission, which means it can now attract funding as a climate-friendly power source.

Europe as a whole is still divided on the future of atomic energy. Germany, for example, decided to phase it out entirely by 2022 following the Fukushima disaster of 2011.

In France, car ads will have cigarette-like disclaimers to discourage driving

France has taken a bold step to remind people that cars aren’t necessarily the best way to move around. In December, the government passed a law asking the creators of cars advertisements to encourage viewers to try not to drive a car whenever it’s possible. The law will now become operational this March across the country.

Image credit: Flickr / Luc Mercelis.

Similar to mandatory messages such as “abuse of alcohol is dangerous for your health” and “smoking causes cancer” currently found some advertisements, the new car ads will recommend that drivers adopt more environmentally responsible options for transportation. The new recommendations will be mandatory for all media across France – including radio, internet, print, and television.

Carmakers will have three options when running an ad:

  • “For short trips, opt for walking or cycling”
  • “consider carpooling,” and
  • “for day-to-day use, take public transportation.”

All ads will also have to include the hashtag #SeDeplacerMoinsPolluer, which is French for “move more and pollute less”. Not fulfilling the rules could mean fines of up to $72,000. 

The legislation asks the companies to present the messages in an “easily readable or audible manner” and that they are made “clearly distinguishable from the advertising message and from any other obligatory mention.” The ads will also have to include the vehicle’s CO2 emission class, a new ranking system that was recently implemented. 

Tackling fossil fuels

Environmentalists in France have long asked for a ban on advertising for all cars, such as the prohibition imposed on the tobacco industry. But while the French government has taken a measure against car advertising, it won’t go quite that far yet. As currently stated in French legislation, only advertising of the most polluting vehicles (emitting more than 123 grams of CO2 per kilometer) will be outlawed, and only in 2028. 

Transport accounts for a quarter of the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions and is also the main cause of air pollution in cities. Within the sector, road transportation is the highest emitter. The bloc aims for at least a 60% reduction of its CO2 emissions from transportation by midcentury as part of its climate change strategy. 

Personal vehicles are one of the most carbon-intensive ways to move around. Taking a train or a bus drastically reduces the carbon footprint and overall emissions, while walking or biking eliminates emissions entirely. That’s why the transition towards a zero-carbon transportation system is very important to cope with the climate crisis. 

At the recent COP26 climate summit, 24 countries, including Canada, the UK, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Ireland, committed to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2040 or earlier. Carmakers such as Ford, Mercedes, and Volvo also signed the pledge, saying they won’t sell fossil-fuel-powered cars in leading markets as early as 2035. 

The International Energy Agency (EIA) warned last year that the world must stop fossil fuel car sales by 2035 in order to have a chance at meeting the Paris Agreement climate targets. The world’s average temperature has already increased 1ºC compared to pre-industrial times, with the Paris deal hoping to limit the increase to 2ºC at most, and ideally 1.5ºC. 

New COVID variant identified in France — but experts say we shouldn’t fear it

Scientists have identified a previously unknown mutant strain in a fully vaccinated person who tested positive after returning from a short three-day trip to Cameroon.

Academics based at the IHU Mediterranee Infection in Marseille, France, discovered the new variant on December 10. So far, the variant doesn’t appear to be spreading rapidly and the World Health Organization has not yet labeled it a variant of concern. Nevertheless, researchers are still describing and keeping an eye on it.

The discovery of the B.1.640.2 mutation, dubbed IHU, was announced in the preprint server medRxiv, in a paper still awaiting peer review. Results show that IHU’s spike protein, the part of the virus responsible for invading host cells, carries the E484K mutation, which increases vaccine resistance. The genomic sequencing also revealed the N501Y mutation — first seen in the Alpha variant — that experts believe can make COVID-19 more transmissible.  

In the paper, the clinicians highlight that it’s important to keep our guard and expect more surprises from the virus: “These observations show once again the unpredictability of the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants and their introduction from abroad,” they write. For comparison Omicron (B.1.1.529) carries around 50 mutations and appears to be better at infecting people who already have a level of immunity. Thankfully, a growing body of research proves it is also less likely to trigger severe symptoms.

Like many countries in Europe, France is experiencing a surge in the number of cases due to the Omicron variant.

Experts insist that IHU, which predates Omicron but has yet to cause widespread harm, should not cause concern – predicting that it may fade into the background. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Dr. Thomas Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said the mutation had “a decent chance to cause trouble but never really materialized. So it is definitely not one worth worrying about too much at the moment.”

The strain was first uploaded to a variant tracking database on November 4, more than two weeks before Omicron was sequenced. For comparison, French authorities are now reporting over 300,000 new cases a day thought to be mostly Omicron, with data suggesting that the researchers have identified only 12 cases of IHU over the same period. 

On the whole, France has good surveillance for COVID-19 variants, meaning health professionals quickly pinpoint any new mutant strains. In contrast to Britain, which only checks three in ten cases for variants. The paper’s authors state that the emergence of the new variant emphasizes the importance of regular “genomic surveillance” on a countrywide scale.

Image of scientific citations.

A prolific French academic, author of hundreds of papers, doesn’t exist. She’s a form of protest

One of France’s most prolific scientific authors, turns out, is actually a form of protest.

Image of scientific citations.
Image via Wikipedia.

Camille Noûs is one very busy bee. His or her scientific writings span subjects from molecular biology to geography and socio-economics. Needless to say, such an impressive body of work earned them stellar metrics in international rankings, and quite a bit of clout. Which makes the fact that Camille Noûs isn’t a real person just a tad embarrassing.

Fake for a cause

Noûs (which means ‘us’ or ‘we’ in French) is the product of RogueESR, a group of French academics that “work in higher education and research” and “strongly reject the education and research policy pursued by the current government”. The fictitious author was meant to show how easily current research ranking systems can be exploited.

“The dazzling scores of Camille Noûs in the international rankings will quickly illustrate the absurdity of the indicators used to evaluate the research output,” the group explained for Liberation.

Camille has been publishing for around one year now, having co-authored an impressive amount of studies already. It is a “symbolic character” aiming to show that research is a collaborative process, not one where individual ‘stars’ advance fields and ideas on their own.

The existence of Camille is meant to poke holes in the French government’s emphasis on meritocracy (or ‘Darwinism’ in the words of the president of the French National Center for Scientific Research, CNRS) that, the group feels, completely denies this collective process.

“I saw it as an act of protest, a good way to demonstrate the fact that the way in which scientific publishing and scientific evaluation work is [done is] not in line with academic values,” explains Stéphane André, professor at the University of Lorraine and one of the first to put the name of Camille Noûs as co-author of one of his articles.

“The advent of rankings based on the list of published articles pushes researchers to no longer want to advance knowledge but their own number of publications. ”

An independent administrative authority has been set up by the French government — the High Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES). In essence, this body is tasked with deciding who is excellent and who is not, and a key metric they use to determine this is (ultimately) how many papers each researcher has published.

For most of us, this isn’t the most consequential piece of news. But in the grand scheme of things, how research is done has a massive impact on our quality of life — it creates the medical devices and techniques we use to stay healthy, produces new and better goods, improves productivity, and so on.

Camille Noûs may be fictional, but the issues that made them necessary are very real. Science is not a perk only some are allowed, it should not be a trapping of the elites. It’s something that affects all of us, and it’s something everybody should get to further and enjoy. It also shows that many researchers are tired with the current academic setting, the monopoly of entities such as journals or councils that decide their fate based on skewed or arbitrary metrics.

France becomes last EU country to ban hunters from gluing birds to trees

Considered by many to be unnecessarily cruel and harmful to the environment, the hunting technique of coating branches with glue to trap songbirds will soon come to an end to France, the only European country in which such practices were still allowed.

Image credit: Flickr / Sue

It wasn’t easy to convince the French government to take action against glue trapping. France only agreed to put a stop to the practice following pressure from conservationists, a formal ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and a threat by the European Union’s executive body to start legal action against the country. The suspension, issued by President Emmanuel Macron, will enter into force from the upcoming hunting season.

Until recently, the French government had found a way around it by allowing the hunting technique only in five departments in south-east France on the grounds that it was “controlled, selective and in limited quantities”. Supporters of the hunting method argued that rapping birds on glue-covered twigs is a cultural tradition. But for the ECJ this wasn’t the case, ruling this week that the practice contravened EU rules.

“It’s wonderful news. Now France cannot use the pretext of an opt-out to allow glue-trapping to happen,” Yves Verilhac, of France’s Bird Protection League (LPO), told The Guardian, celebrating the news. “The judgment is very interesting because it says that tradition is no excuse for this and that it is absolutely not selective, which is what we knew and argued.”

The excitement wasn’t shared by the hunters. In a television interview on Thursday Willy Schraen, the head of the hunters’ federation, called the suspension “unacceptable” and said the hunters should be left alone by the government. “Why is this an issue to occupy Europe and our minister?” he added.

There are about 1.5 million registered hunters in France and they represent an important voting bloc in rural areas. President Macron has made efforts to attract their support since he was elected in 2017, which partly explains why France remained as the single country in the EU not to ban the technique – used by 5,000 hunters in the country, according to the hunter’s federation.

The glue-covered bird traps are used to catch songbirds like thrushes (Turdidae) and blackbirds (Turdus merula). Conservationists argue they traps are cruel to the trapped songbirds and threaten endangered species, as they trap many kinds of birds. The EU outlawed glue traps in 1979 but France remained until know as the single country to not accept the block’s rules.

French hunters kill an estimated 17 million birds a year from 64 species, more than any other European country, according to LPO. Of the bird species, 20 are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), including the turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur), rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), redwing (Turdus iliacus), and curlew (Numenius)

The industrial glue used in the traps can be toxic for birds, while the solvents used to detach the animals can harm trees and soil. It’s also needlessly cruel, as campaigns to ban the hunting technique have shown multiple times over the years, releasing footage of how birds suffer as they are trapped. Their next step will be asking the government to ban other practices, like trapping birds with nests.

French court convicts the government for not doing enough on climate change

In a ruling hailed as historic by environmentalists, a court in Paris convicted the French state of not keeping its promises to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. While the trial won’t have any immediate impact, it creates an important precedent and can have major ramifications down the line.

Image credit: Flickr / Philipe Rouzet.

The court ordered the government to pay a symbolic fine of one euro to the four environmental organizations that brought the case after France exceeded its 2015-2018 carbon budget. As part of their demand, the NGOs had presented 100 testimonies from individuals after collecting more than 25,000 online.

“This is a historic win for climate justice. The decision not only takes into consideration what scientists say and what people want from French public policies, but it should also inspire people all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate change in their courts,” Jean-François Julliard, head of Greenpeace France, one of the plaintiffs, told The Guardian.

In its 38-page decision, the judges acknowledged that there was a link between ecological damage and deficiencies by the French state in following its own climate goals. They held the state responsible for failing to implement public policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, giving the government two months to demonstrate what they are doing to address climate change.

Nevertheless, the judges didn’t support a claim for symbolic compensation, claiming that compensation should be made “in kind” and damages awarded “only if the reparation measures were impossible or insufficient”. However, they ruled the applicants were entitled to seek compensation in kind for the “ecological damage” done by the government.

Cécilia Rinaudo, the director of Notre Affaire à Tous (It’s Everyone’s Business), another plaintiff, said in a statement: “It’s a victory for all the people who are already facing the devastating impact of the climate crisis that our leaders fail to tackle. The time has come for justice. This legal action has brought millions of people together in a common fight: the fight for our future.”

The argument used by the environmental groups was that France exceeded its 2015-18 carbon budget by 4%, failing to deliver its own targets. The country emitted 18 million tons of CO2 equivalent a year more than planned. This was acknowledged by the government, claiming that the country’s climate efforts have “significantly stepped up” since current President Emmanuel Macron took office in 2017.

In its last climate pledge, the French government pledged to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050, one of the goals included in the Paris Agreement on climate change. Still, in a report in July, France’s High Council for the Climate severely criticized government policies, claiming “climate action is not up to the challenge.”

The French case is part of a move by climate campaigners across the world to use courts against governments. A report by the UN Environment Program showed that as of July 2020 a total of 1,550 climate change cases had been filed in 38 countries. This includes a 2019 ruling by the Dutch Supreme Court, ordering the Netherlands to cut its emissions by 25% by the end of 2020.

Fishermen accuse Nestlé of polluting a river in France, killing tons of fish

The food giant Nestlé is being accused of polluting a local river in the region of Ardennes in the east of France, where a local fishing federation has filed a legal complaint after finding tons of dead fish in the river. It will take 10 years to get the fish levels back to normal, they argue.

The fishing federation of Ardennes said they found scores of dead fish in the Aisne river last weekend close to a Nestlé factory, accusing the company of breaking the local environmental code. In an initial inspection, the local prefecture said the deaths were due to lower oxygen levels in the water.

“We have lodged a complaint against Nestlé France for pollution and violation of article 432.2 of the environmental code,” said Michel Adam, president of the Ardennes Fishing Federation. He said the damage amounted to “several thousand euros” and that “everything died in an area 7 kilometers long and 30 meters wide.”

Members of the federation have already recovered three tons of dead fish but many more are left. They estimated that 14 species have been affected, including protected ones such as eels and lamprey, and the effects will spread up and down the food chain. For Adam, who has been involved with the federation for 40 years, pollution of this magnitude has never been registered in the area.

Voluntary fishermen, locals and firefighters have been working with the federation to collect the dead fish and evacuate the remaining ones. All water activities in the area have been suspended until further notice. Meanwhile, the police are analyzing the water for the presence of chemicals or bacteria.

Nestle has a 47,000 square-kilometer factory in the area of Challerange, where it produces powdered milk since 1947. The company released a statement confirming there was a spill of “biological sludge” bur claimed it didn’t contain chemical products, coming from its filtering station.

“As soon as we learned of the report on Sunday, we immediately stopped production and put an end to the spill,” factory director Tony do Rio said in a statement. “This spill was a one-off [and lasted] less than three hours on Sunday evening,” he said, adding that activity at the factory had been stopped for a few days.

The region of Ardennes is well known around the world for its green and eco-tourism, including impressive forests, rivers and lakes. Tourists visit it every year for outdoor leisure activities, such as the Ardennes forest, the Trans-Ardennes Greenway, and the lakes of Bairon and Les Vieilles-Forges.

Nestle is a Swiss multinational food and beverage company. According to Wikipedia, their products include baby food, bottled water, breakfast cereals, coffee and tea, confectionery, dairy products, ice cream, frozen food, pet foods, and snacks. Twenty-nine of their brands have sales of over $1 billion a year and have over 8,000 brands. Nestle is no stranger to controversy, being accused of anything from pollution to child labor in the past.

Was the coronavirus in France already in December? French doctors think so

As the world does its best to cope with the coronavirus epidemic, researchers are trying to get a grasp on when and where the virus actually started. So far, 3,5 million positive cases and 252,000 deaths have been recorded across the globe, and a further 1,7 million people who have recovered.

Credit Flickr

New evidence suggests that the coronavirus might have made its way to France a month earlier than previously thought. Doctors in Paris said a patient admitted with pneumonia in December might have been suffering from COVID-19, suggesting the virus was circulating in France at that time.

French researchers led by Yves Cohen, head of resuscitation at the Avicenne and Jean Verdier hospitals, retested samples from 24 patients treated in December and January who had tested negative for flu before COVID-19 developed into a pandemic. The results showed that one patient, a 42-year-old man born in Algeria who had lived in France for many years and worked as a fishmonger, was infected with COVID-19 “one month before the first reported cases in our country”, the researchers said.

The World Health Organization said not to be surprised by the results. “It’s also possible there are more early cases to be found,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a U.N. briefing in Geneva. He encouraged other countries to check records for cases in late 2019, saying this would give the world a “new and clearer picture.”

Europe did not start reporting cases of coronavirus until January. In Italy, the European country hit hardest by the virus, the first two cases were reported on January 31, in two Chinese tourists in Rome. The first known community transmission was recorded at the end of February in Codogno, northern Italy.

The patient in France had not been to China, and one of his children had also been sick. His last trip was in Algeria during August 2019. This suggests that the disease was already spreading among the French population at the end of December, the researchers argued.

“Identifying the first infected patient is of great epidemiological interest as it changes dramatically our knowledge regarding SARS-COV-2 and its spreading in the country,” they added.

Nevertheless, independent experts that weren’t involved in the study said more investigation is needed to be sure about an earlier presence of the virus. Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at Britain’s University of Nottingham, told Reuters the evidence so far is inconclusive.

Stephen Griffin, an expert at the University of Leeds’ Institute of Medical Research, told French television that this was a “potentially important finding” but asked to be cautious to interpret it. He argued it’s still too early to tell if the patient was France’s “patient zero.”

The study from the French researchers was published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents.

Coronavirus in France — live updates, cases, and news

Coronavirus cases and fatalities in France

The number is based on confirmed diagnostic tests. It is very likely that the true number of COVID-19 cases is higher as many cases are asymptomatic.

New COVID-19 cases and fatalities per day in France

This is a good indicator of “flattening the curve” — when there is a steady decreasing trend, it is an indicator that the spread of the disease is slowing down.

[no_toc]

If you’d like to use these graphs and maps on your site or articles, please e-mail us.

WHAT IS CORONAVIRUS COVID-19?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses. COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that causes illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.

It is zoonotic, meaning that it was transmitted from animal to human. It is now sure that the disease can be transmitted from human to human.

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, coughing, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE VIRUS?

The virus does not spread on its own. People who have the virus are the ones who spread it. Therefore, the following measures can help you protect yourself (and others) from the virus:

  • Wash your hands very often;
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your sleeve or with a tissue when you cough or sneeze;
  • Use single-use tissues, and then throw them away;
  • Do not shake hands or greet people with kisses on the cheek;
  • Avoid gatherings, reduce travel and contacts.

What should you do if you are feeling ill?
If, while you are in France, you have signs of a respiratory infection (a fever or feverish feeling, a cough), stay at home and call a doctor. If the symptoms get worse, dial 15 or call or send a text to 114 if you have a speech or hearing impairment.

Coronavirus in France News:

[RSSImport display=”10″ feedurl=”https://www.france24.com/en/france/rss” displaydescriptions= “true” html=”true” paging=”false” use_simplepie=”false” date=”true”]

France to stop reimbursing homeopathic treatments

Under the current system, people can purchase homeopathic products and the government will partially reimburse the cost of the treatment. This is about to change.

Woman looking at homeopathic ‘remedies’. Image credits: Casey West.

The healthcare system in France (as in most of Europe) is very different from that in the US. It’s a universal health care system largely financed by government national health insurance. It’s free and consistently ranks among the best ones in the world, despite the average spending being way below that of the US.

Of course, the system is not perfect. For instance, one thing which medical scientists have long objected to is the reimbursement of homeopathic costs.

France has a long history with homeopathy, this being the most popular alternative treatment. Its prevalence rose steadily since the 1980s, despite the fact that research has consistently shown that there is no reliable evidence to support homeopathic products (read our in-depth explanation of why homeopathy sometimes seems to work here). France also hosts the global leader of homeopathic products, Boiron — a company with yearly revenues in excess of $650 million.

Boiron has strongly protested against this measure but as government representatives point out, the country spends a hefty sum reimbursing homeopathic treatments that just don’t work. According to official figures, French social security in 2018 paid back patients some 126.8 million euros ($142.2 million) for homeopathic treatment — out of a total of 20 billion euros ($22.4 billion) refunded for medicines in total.

That will now stop.

Unlike conventional treatments, which can be fully reimbursed by the government, the reimbursement of homeopathic products is currently limited at 30% of the price. French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said the reimbursement will be gradually phased out, going down to 15% in 2020 and 0% in 2021.

Buzyn, a leading French hematologist and university professor, had no previous experience in politics before joining the government in 2017. She has consistently emphasized the importance of implementing science-based policies, even if the decisions are unpopular — which is the case here.

The decision was met with substantial backlash from a part of the French population, which considered it a breach of their individual freedom. However, Buzyn emphasizes that doctors will still be free to prescribe homeopathic treatments, and people are still free to buy them if they so choose. Still, in order for the government to offer reimbursements, there needs to be some evidence supporting homeopathy — which, at the moment, isn’t the case. In fact, the principles behind homeopathy have long been disproven.

It’s a small but significant step for a country where homeopathy is very prevalent. The government is sending a strong message: homeopathy has time and time again been disproven and shown to be no better than a placebo — so why fund it?

French environment minister quits during live interview — says we’re not doing enough

Surprising news

When Nicolas Hulot, the French environment minister, went on a radio breakfast show, no one was expecting anything like this. As the interview went on, Hulot spoke more and more about the failures of his cabinet — lamenting that France has not done enough on any environmental front.

“Have we started to reduce our CO2 emissions? No. Have we started to reduce our use of pesticides? No. To prevent the erosion of our biodiversity? No,” Hulot explained.

As the discussion continued, it seemed that Hulot reached a striking moment of self-awareness. Saying that he felt “alone” in a cabinet which took “insufficient” action to tackle environmental challenges, he foreshadowed his resignation.

“I can’t lie to myself anymore,” he said. “I don’t want my presence in the government to give the illusion that we’re facing up to such stakes,” he said on public radio France Inter.

Neither President Emmanuel Macron nor any other ministers were made aware of this decision beforehand. In fact, when Marlène Schiappa, Macron’s secretary of state for equality heard the news while being live on another radio station, she asked the presenter if he was joking.

He wasn’t.

“I am going to take… the most difficult decision of my life,” Hulot concluded. “I am taking the decision to leave the government.”

Not even his wife knew.

Hulot in 2015, at the signing of the Paris Agreement.

An environmental crisis, or a political crisis?

When Emmanuel Macron was elected French president, he came into office as an environmental champion. He strongly rebuked Trump’s announced his intention to quit the Paris Agreement, and even went on to consider the climate agreement as a prerequisite for a trade agreement. Furthermore, Hulot, a respected journalist and environmental activist, had been one of Macron’s most popular ministers — so it seemed like things could only go well. But they didn’t.

Macron’s promises, while laudable, have mostly remained just that — promises. Furthermore, the straw that broke the minister’s back was another problem, indicative of the current situation not only for Macron’s France but also for most of the world’s leaders: lobbying.

During his interview, Hulot recalled how just earlier this week, a member of the hunting lobby was allowed to attend and intervene in an environmental meeting. This probably comes as no coincidence, considering that Macron recently announced the reintroduction of the ‘traditional’ presidential hunt. When Hulot asked Macron about this, the president reportedly responded that he “didn’t know how he had got in.” This attempt at humor certainly didn’t amuse Hulot.

“It is symptomatic of the presence of lobbyists in circles of power. Who holds the power? Who rules?” Hulot wondered on the radio.

It’s not the first time the French government has been criticized regarding lobbying. Ecologist Yannick Jadot told Le Monde that Macron “sucks up” to lobbyists, and if you look elsewhere in the world, you will likely find similar issues.

Mini steps

In truth, it’s not like France hasn’t been doing anything. They’re taking steps to get rid of coal plants, they announced a ban on non-electric cars by 2040, and environmental awareness campaigns are commonplace in France. But this isn’t nearly enough — it’s only “mini steps”, Hulot explains.

Meanwhile, Macron, who is currently on a state visit, says France has “done more than any other on this subject”, adding that people must be patient. “It’s a fight that isn’t won from one day to the next,” Macron said.

There is some truth to both sides, but Macron is still a long way away from fulfilling his promises, which include cutting emissions, pesticides bans, and wildlife protection — and those goals can only be achieved with courage and well-thought plans, not corporate lobby. Meanwhile, Hulot’s call remains unanswered.

“I don’t understand that we are witnessing the gestation of a tragedy with indifference,” Hulot said. “The planet is becoming a sauna, our natural resources are draining, biodiversity is vanishing. And we stubbornly try to revive an economic model that is the cause of all this mess.”

France is being invaded by giant, predatory worms

This silent invasion has been taking place for 20 years, but scientists have just now noticed.

Image credits: Pierre Gros.

It’s not every day that an amateur naturalist and gardener publishes a scientific study, but that’s exactly what happened in France. Pierre Gros found some unusual worms in his garden — they were big, predatory, and sported a hammer-like head. He took photos and forwarded them to Jean-Lou Justine of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Justine was annoyed, as he thought someone was playing a prank on him. The worms were obviously hammerhead flatworms (genera Bipalium and Diversibipalium) — the only problem is that hammerhead flatworms are native to the warmer parts of Asia, nowhere near Europe. Gros sent Justin more and more photos, leading the latter to express his frustration to the Washington Post: “The man is bringing back worms from his travels, and he pretends he finds them in his garden!”

But Gros persisted, and after a while, he managed to convince Justine that this was not just a prank. The worms were very much real, and they were very much in France. Shocked, Justine embarked on a four-year survey to see what was going on with the worms, and why they were seemingly thriving in France.

Image credits: Justine et al.

The duo made use of citizen science, asking people to report as many sightings as possible. Observations ranged from Western and Northern France all the way to the South-Eastern corner of the country — even the island of Corsica. At one point, scientists received an email from frightened kindergarteners who thought they had found writhing snakes — but the snakes turned out to be hammerhead worms. Another observation came from a 1999 VHS tape. There was also a Twitter account dedicated to the cause, which sent out photos the team had received.

When the survey was complete, it was revealed that the worms, which can reach up to 27 centimeters (10.6 inches) had invaded France at least 20 years ago, and they were indeed thriving. There are several reasons this was happening: for one, the worms can reproduce asexually, which enables a single individual to produce many offspring immediately. This means that if a single worm somehow arrived in France, it could start a population on its own, something that’s not possible in the case of sexual reproduction. Secondly, the worms also don’t have any natural predators. Thirdly, being so big allows them to overcome competition and fend off other, smaller worms.

Some worms were identified as Bipalium kewenseB. vagum, and Diversibipalium multilineatum. However, two are utterly alien to the stunned scientists and are as yet unnamed.

Of course, worms are an invasive species and they can cause severe problems in their soil ecosystems. France isn’t alone in suffering from this invasion of these worms. Similar cases have been reported in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Brazil, and Australia. However, there is surprisingly little scientific literature on the matter.

But how did the worms get there in the first place? Justine admits he is still baffled by this. “I don’t understand how this is possible,” he told the Independent. However, this is not an isolated case — invasive species are becoming more and more common in most parts of the world. Invasive shells can travel the world on the hull of ships, invasive fish can devastate entire streams and lakes, and of course, species can also be released into the wild by humans, often with devastating consequences.

Invasive species also tend to have traits that allow them to out-compete native species

Journal Reference: Jean-Lou Justine, Leigh Winsor, Delphine Gey, Pierre Gros, Jessica Thévenot — Giant worms chez moi! Hammerhead flatworms (Platyhelminthes, Geoplanidae, Bipalium spp., Diversibipalium spp.) in metropolitan France and overseas French territories. PeerJ6:e4672 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4672

France Eiffel Tower.

France will shut down its coal plants by 2021, two years earlier than initially planned

France is doubling down on its plans to take coal out of the energy market.

France Eiffel Tower.

Image via Pixabay.

Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, is pushing forward his country’s pledge to shut down all coal plants within two years. Initially introduced by Macron’s predecessor, Francois Hollande, the plan was aimed at taking coal out of the European nation’s power mix by 2023 — now revised to 2021.

As only one percent of the country’s energy is produced from coal, the new administration’s announcement is seen as largely symbolic. Still, the message it sends is clear: with an increasingly environmentally hostile US, France wants to take the lead against climate change.

From little to none

“We’ve also decided to make France a model in the fight against climate change”, Mr Macron said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“We should stop opposing on one side productivity, on the other side climate change issues,” he added, saying the commitment brings France “a huge advantage in terms of attractiveness and competitiveness”.

Many other nations are also taking steps to phase out coal. China, currently the world’s biggest greenhouse emitter, canceled work on 104 coal plant construction sites last year alone, and a body of national governments have joined in a common pledge to completely eliminate the fossil fuel from their energy mix by 2030. The EU as a whole also has doubled down on its efforts to get rid of coal.

There’s also solid economic reasoning behind this drive. The prices of renewable energy have been steadily dropping these past few years and, for many communities, coal is just not cost-effective anymore. That’s especially true for wealthier nations, which could afford to subsidize parts of the cost associated with renewable energy. And, as technologies improve and efficiency rises, renewable energy will become more affordable than fossil fuels across the board.

So, whichever way you look at it, going green makes perfect sense.

While France stands poised to lead the way there, addressing climate change will take more than the actions of a single nation or continent. In this regard, the US sticks out like a sore thumb. As Mr Macron drives France ever farther from coal, the Trump administration is committed to going in the opposite direction, making the revival of the coal industry a central campaign promise. Since taking office, he has reversed a series of landmark environmental policies set out by his predecessor Barack Obama and pulled the US out of the Paris Climate agreement.

In regards to climate action, the US is more isolated than ever before. As if to answer France’s symbolic pledge in kind, President Trump had to cancel his attendance at the summit in Switzerland following a government shutdown.

Cluny Gold.

Huge treasure of medieval silver and gold unearthed at the Cluny Abbey, France

French archaeologists have unearthed a breathtaking hoard of medieval riches at the Abbey of Cluny, in Saône-et-Loire. The riches include over 2,200 silver deniers and oboles, 21 Almoravid gold dinars, a signet ring and other gold objects. It’s the largest single collection of silver deniers ever discovered, and the first time European coins were found hidden alongside Arab ones and such a prohibitively expensive object as a signet ring.

Cluny Silver.

The coins as discovered in-situ, and after excavation.

This round of excavation works at the Abbey of Cluny started in 2015 under the supervision of Anne Baud, an academic at the Université Lumière Lyon 2, and Anne Flammin, an engineer at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). Working together with colleagues and 9 students enrolled in the Master of Archaeology and Archaeological Science at the Lyon 2 University, they’ve discovered a treasure likely dating from the first half of the 12th century.

Fit for Smaug

The treasure trove consists of over 2,200 European silver coins, most of which were minted at the Abbey, which were stored in a cloth bag — traces of which still remain on some of the coins. Western currency at the time was dominated by the silver denier, and such deniers would likely have been used for everyday purchases.

Inside the bag, archaeologists also found a tightly bound and knotted tanned hide bundle containing 21 Arab gold denars, minted between 1211 and 1311 in Morocco and Spain under Ali ibn Yusuf, a member of the Berber Almoravid dynasty. Gold coins at this time were largely reserved for rare and significant transactions.

Alongside the coins, the team recovered a gold signet ring with “a red intaglio depicting the bust of a god” likely created in the first half of the 12th century, a foil of gold sheet weighing 24 grams that was stored in a case, and a small circular object made of gold.

Cluny Gold.

Knotted tanned hide bundle holding the gold objects.(2) & (4) gold dinars; (3) signet ring with intaglio; (5) contents of knotted tanned hide bundle.
Image credits Alexis Grattier / Université Lumière Lyon 2

The finding is exceptional on several counts. For starters, the sheer size and value of the of riches unearthed make this hoard stand out — this is the largest single stash of deniers ever found. It’s also a very unusual to find Arab coins in a monastic setting, both because of their huge value — which prohibited use in anything but the largest transactions — especially at Cluny, which was one of the largest abbeys of Western Europe during the Middle Ages.

The riches help color the history of Cluny Abbey, a historical site open to the public and also raise some very exciting questions. How did this treasure get here, who did it belong to and who brought it? And why was it hidden?

Vincent Borrel, a PhD student at the Archaeology and Philology of East and West (CNRS / ENS) research unit is currently studying the treasure in more detail to identify and date the various pieces with greater precision, hopefully gaining some insight into what the answers to these questions might be.

Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron.

France’s import of brainpower will likely make it a nexus of climate science

Macron’s Make Our Planet Great Again call seems to set France firmly on the path to becoming a green science heavyweight.

Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron.

Image credits US Embassy France.

World leaders were generally pretty cross with President Trumps’ call to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. In particular, French president Emmanuel Macron responded to the decision with what at the time looked like a case of tongue-in-cheek trolling: by turning Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan on its head, calling for people from all around the world to “make our planet great again.”

In the meantime, it became apparent that Macron was willing to put his money where his mouth is. Working in tandem with Business France, a governmental agency tasked with promoting French businesses overseas, Macron’s administration put together a Make Our Planet Great Again website stating that “France has always led fights for human rights” and is “determined to lead (and win!) this battle on climate change.” Since then, the movement has gained a lot of traction, as well as the attention and support of people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger.

If you want to throw your hat in with the proverbial lot and contribute to that goal, there’s a link which will take you to a short survey. By the looks of it, it seems France is interested in recruiting entrepreneurs, teachers, researchers, students, NGOs, even “other”s into their fold. And researchers, in particular, are getting a lot of love.

Grants for grabs

Choose the researcher option and you’ll wind your way to a page with details on the research program and how to apply if you’re currently in the US. France is especially interested in anyone with a background in climate change, earth sciences, and energy traditions — the website defines this last one as including “renewable energies, innovative zero-carbon energy sources, energy storage, smart energy-management systems, hydrogen vector, carbon storage, electrification of vehicles, as well as human and social sciences to understand, accompany, or open options for energy transition.”

You’ll be prompted to upload a short research plan and a summary of your academic record. And then, a button graces your view. Etched upon its digital surface lie those few words that keep researchers up all night, every night: “How do I finance my project?”

The section lists the grants made available for the program, and I’m happy to say they’re quite sizable. Each grant runs for four years and will amount to between one million Euros for a junior researcher, to one and a half million for senior researchers. The lower sum should be enough to cover salary, two grad students, and research expenses, while the senior grant also allows for two full-time research staff.

With France’s grants up for grabs and the Trump administration’s efforts to cut down on climate research and spending, it’s no surprise that many researchers are interested in Macron’s program.

“Applications continue to come in every hour,” Dr Anne Peyroche, chief research officer of national research agency CNRS, told Nature.

 

The total grants to be awarded would sum up close to 55 million Euros. The 50 scientists selected to receive the grant money will be announced towards the end of this year.

France to make vaccination mandatory from 2018: ‘unacceptable children are still dying of measles’

The newly-elected French government has decided to heed the warning of medical scientists worldwide, and has decided to make vaccines mandatory by 2018. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said it was “unacceptable” that children are “still dying of measles” in the country where the earliest vaccines were pioneered. Mister Philippe referenced the legendary biologist Louis Pasteur, who worked on one of the world’s first vaccines in the 19th century.

Vaccines vs diseases

Care to wager when the measles vaccine was introduced? Data: WHO.

At the moment, three vaccines are mandatory in France: for diphtheria, tetanus, and polio. However, the recommendations of international medical bodies (including the World Health Organization) include several other vaccines, including measles. In Europe and the US, measles outbreaks have grown increasingly threatening. In Romania’s unvaccinated community, there have already been 500 cases and at least 17 fatalities. Italy has also reported an outbreak, just as vaccination rates started to fall off. Across the ocean, the American state of Maine reported its first case of measles in over 20 years — and all this is directly correlated to a reduction in vaccination. 

French authorities have realized what scientists have been screaming for years: it’s pointless to have so many people suffer and even be killed at the hands of diseases for which we have a silver bullet. 

The measles vaccine is extremely effective. Researchers estimate that just since 2000, it has saved over 20,000,000 lives worldwide. It’s not even like measles is an isolated case. Just look at polio — polio cases have dropped by over 99% since vaccines have been introduced, but with vaccination rates dropping, these risks can re-emerge. Instead of executing our coup de grace and completely eradicating these diseases, we’re offering them another chance. This is exactly what Philippe said to motivate this decision — we can’t afford to allow dangerous infectious diseases to reappear by not vaccinating.

“We have the same problem with meningitis. It’s not acceptable that a 15-year-old teenager could die just because they have not been vaccinated,” the minister said.

Data from WHO.

The move also follows a petition signed by 200 senior doctors and hospital bosses, pleading for officials to take measures to prevent such diseases from taking their toll. It’s more than just a personal decision, it’s a collective responsibility.

“Vaccination isn’t only a personal choice that solely benefits the person who is vaccinated” but “it aims to protect the population, in particular children, the elderly and fragile,” wrote the health professionals.

“Systematic vaccination has eradicated diseases, such as Smallpox ” the text noted, “but the reduction in the vaccination coverage rate of the population has led to the resurgence of certain diseases such as measles.”

The eight more vaccines that will be introduced are for whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitus B, influenza, pneumonia and meningitis C.

Anti-vaxxers

The baffling trend of anti-vaccination (anti-vaxxing) has turned into a menace. It’s become somewhat fashionable to refuse vaccination, completely ignoring a big chunk of modern medicine and going against everything science (and common sense) says. Why would people shun such a useful tool, a tool that has kept some of the world’s most dangerous diseases at bay?

It’s hard to say, though ignorance and exposure to misleading propaganda definitely play a role. But a big part of it is owed to a single man: Andrew Wakefield.

Andrew Wakefield is a former medical researcher. I say former because he was struck off the UK medical register for a fraudulent 1998 research paper, as well other proven charges of misconduct. His infamous research paper claimed that there was a link between the administration of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and the appearance of autism and bowel disease. This is the only paper to suggest a link between vaccines and autism, and it’s been retracted.

Not only has this since been discredited many times through different studies, but it has been proven that Wakefield knowingly tampered with this study, and even subjected the children to unnecessary and painful procedures, such as colonoscopies and lumbar punctures. That’s right — the entire idea that vaccines cause autism is caused by a fraudulent study which abused children in the process. How did it grow so much? I have no idea.

Ironically, France is one of the countries which bought this lie, much more than others. According to a recent survey, 3 in 10 Frenchmen don’t trust vaccines, and only 52% of people believe the risks outweigh the benefits.

“We are astonished to see that 41 percent of the French say they are wary of vaccinations”, said François Chast, head of pharmacology at Paris hospitals.
“It is urgent to fight the speeches of anti-science and anti-vaccination lobbies that play on fear, they show nothing and rely on a few very rare side effects to discredit vaccines that save millions of lives,” he said.

*For our anti-vaxxer friends, you are more than welcome to hop on to the comment section and make your case, we will do our best to reply. But please reference peer-reviewed science. Thank you!

A model of a single-molecule car that can advance across a copper surface when electronically excited by an scanning tunneling microscope tip.

World’s tiniest race will pit nanocars against each other in Toulouse this April

This April, Toulouse, France will be host to the world’s first international molecule-car race. The vehicles will be made up of only a few atoms and rely on tiny electrical pulses to power them through the 36-hour race.

A model of a single-molecule car that can advance across a copper surface when electronically excited by an scanning tunneling microscope tip.

A model of a single-molecule car that can advance across a copper surface when electronically excited by a scanning tunneling microscope tip.
Image courtesy of Ben Feringa.

Races did wonders for the automotive industry. Vying for renown and that one second better lap time, engineers and drivers have pushed the limits of their cars farther and farther. Seeing the boon competition proved to be for the development of science and technology in pursuit of better performance, the French National Center for Scientific Research (Centre national de la recherche scientifique / CNRS) is taking racing to a whole new level — the molecular level.

From April 28th to the 29th, six international teams will compete in Toulouse, France, in a 36-hour long nanocar race. The vehicles will only be comprised of a few atoms and powered by light electrical impulses while they navigate a 100-nanometer racecourse made up of gold atoms.

The fast (relative to size) and sciency

The event is, first of all, an engineering and scientific challenge. The organizers hope to promote research into the creation, control, and observation of nanomachines through the competition. Such devices show great promise for future applications, where their small size and nimbleness would allow them to work individually or in groups for a huge range of industries — from building regular-sized machines or atom-by-atom recycling to medical applications, nanomachines could prove invaluable in the future. It’s such a hot topic in science that last year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded for discovering how to make more advanced parts for these machines.

But right now, nanomachines are kind of crude. Like really tiny Model T’s. To nudge researchers into improving this class of devices, the CNRS began the NanoCarsRace experiment back in 2013. It’s the brainchild of the center’s senior researcher Christian Joachim, who’s now director of the race, and Université Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier Professor of Chemistry Gwénaël Rapenne, both of whom have spent the last four years making sure everything is ready and equitable for the big event.

Some challenges they’ve faced were selecting the racecourse — which must accommodate all types of molecule-cars — and finding a way for participants to actually see their machines in action. Since witnessing a race so small unfurl could prove beyond the limitations of the human eye, the vehicles will compete under the four tips of a unique tunneling microscope housed at the CNRS’s Centre d’élaboration de matériaux et d’études structurales (CEMES) in Toulouse. It’s currently the only microscope in the world allowing four different experimenters to work on the same surface.

Scanning Tunneling Microscope explained.

Image credits CNRS Universite Paris-Sud / Physics Reimagined, via YouTube.

Scanning Tunneling Microscope in action.

Image credits CNRS Universite Paris-Sud / Physics Reimagined, via YouTube.

The teams have also been hard at work, facing several challenges. Beyond the difficulty of monitoring and putting together working devices only atoms in size, they also had to meet several design criteria such as limitations on molecular structures and form of propulsion. At the scale they’re working on, the distinction between physics and chemistry starts to blur. Atoms aren’t the things axles or rivets are made of — they’re the actual axles and rivets. So the researchers-turned-race-enthusiasts will likely be treading on novel ground for both of these fields of science, advancing our knowledge of the very-very-small.

Out of the initial nine teams which applied for the race before the deadline in May 2016, six were selected for the race. Four of them will go under the microscope on April 28th. The race is about scientific pursuit, but it’s also an undeniably cool event — so CNRS will be broadcasting it live on the YouTube Nanocar Race channel.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”The rules of the race” footer=””]The race course will consist of a 20 nm stretch followed by one 45° turn, a 30 nm stretch followed by one 45° turn, and a final 20 nm dash — for a total of 100 nm.
Maximum duration of 36h.
The teams are allowed one change of their race cars in case of accidents.
Pushing another racecar a la Mario Kart is forbidden.
Each team is allotted one sector of the gold course.
A maximum of 6 hours are allowed before the race so each team can clean its portion of the course.
No tip changes will be allowed during the race.[/panel]

 

Former French President comes out of the closet as a climate skeptic

Nicolas Sarkozy began his mandate of President of the Republic of France on 16 May 2007 and ended it in 2012. He wants to become the president of France once more. Photo by Aleph.

‘Climate has been changing for four billion years,’ said Nikolas Sarkozy, the former French president and also a candidate for future elections.

Sarkozy has previously been critical of climate change covering, complaining that the Climate Summit in Paris 2015 received too much attention. He also minimized the impact of climate change, but it’s the first time he goes full out, stating that there’s no way mankind is causing climate change.

“Climate has been changing for four billion years,” the former president told a panel of business leaders this week, the weekly Marianne reported. “Sahara has become a desert, it isn’t because of industry. You need to be as arrogant as men are to believe we changed the climate.”

He also reportedly said that Europe should focus more on stopping migrants and less on global warming.

Now, we wouldn’t normally focus much on such statements, but Sarkozy, who lost his presidency in 2012 to François Hollande, is a frontrunner for the next presidential elections in France. Having a leader who is openly a climate skeptic in a country like France can be extremely dangerous – and yes, people who say mankind isn’t causing climate change should be considered climate skeptics.

Needless to say, climate change is real and we are causing it – as this amazing XKCD comic shows. There’s a trove of scientific data on man-made climate change and there’s a virtual consensus on climate change in the scientific world. Just 0.17% of all peer reviewed papers offer arguments for climate skepticism. The most comprehensive report on climate change to date concluded that “with a certainty of 95%, climate change is man made.”

There’s no scientific debate, but unfortunately, politicians seem to follow a different agenda. Just a couple of months ago, the new UK prime minister Theresa May all but dissolved the public climate change office, and US Republican candidate Donald Trump is an open denier of climate change.

French rivers dyed green to raise awareness about water pollution

It seems like a counterproductive tactic at first – dyeing water to raise awareness about water pollution – but the visual effect was extremely strong, and everything was completely safe, activists say.

The dye doesn’t harm the fish, according to environmentalists; via AgentsEnvir / Facebook

It’s not the first time environmentalists use unorthodox methods to promote their causes, but this was one of the most creative and strong campaigns I’ve seen, showing how pollution propagates through water. But is it really safe?

“We used a colorant called fluorescein that’s totally harmless,” said Yannick Pognart, an activist involved in the stunt. “It’s to show the path pollution takes in the water. It’s a strong visual, but it’s completely safe. The fish don’t even notice.”

It’s true that florescein is completely safe. It is widely used as a fluorescent tracer for many applications including microscopy, in some lasers and in forensic studies, but as far as I could find, it was never used in such large quantities. While it certainly didn’t have a strong effect, I doubt the “fish wouldn’t notice” – though the disturbance probably wasn’t significant, especially as the dye washed out fast.

The move highlighted some significant problems France is currently facing. Not only did it show how fast pollution can propagate even from a small spill, but it highlighted the lack of funds for monitoring river health and safety.

“You can’t say ecology is the priority of the country when we see that our resources are down 10 percent,” said French environmental worker Patrick Chopin. “We want to alert the public about the need to preserve and strengthen this public service.”

It’s an eye-catching stunt, but pollution is often invisible or hard to detect. This goes not only for France but for all the countries in the world: rivers are a key element of our lives, and we have to ensure their environmental health – otherwise, we’ll be the ones suffering.

This is how one French power plant produces electricity using cheese

The town of Albertville in southeastern France has begun using cheese to generate electricity. Their power plant, build in the Savoie region, uses a byproduct of the local Beaufort cheese manufacturies as the base for its biogas power generation system.

Ahhh, cheese. Truly, a tragically under-appreciated food. Is there any meal it cannot make wholesome with its creamy bliss? Is there anything that cheese cannot do? The answer to the last one is most likely “yes” but the French seem set on turning it into a definite “no.” Not content with enjoying cheese only with their crackers and wine, the people of Albertville in France have now found a way to include dairy in their power grid.

Beaufort cheese.
Image via telegraph

The dairy plant, opened in October last year, uses the skimmed whey left over from the process of making Beaufort cheese. Mixing it with cultures of bacteria, the whey is left to ferment, producing a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide — in essence, biogas. The gas is then fed through an engine that heats water to 90 degrees Celsius, and the steam used to generate electricity.

“Whey is our fuel,” said François Decker of Valbio, the company that designed and built the cheesy station.

“It’s quite simply the same as the ingredient in natural yogurt.”

The plant will produce about 2.8 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, enough electricity to supply a community of 1,500 people, Mr Decker told Le Parisien newspaper.

This isn’t Valbio’s first cheese-to-power station, but it is one of the largest. The company built its first prototype plant 10 years ago to be used by a cheese-making abbey where monks have kept this trade since the 12th century. About 20 other small-scale plants have been built in France, other European countries and Canada. More units are planned in Australia, Italy, Brazil and Uruguay.

Cream, the other by-product of Beaufort cheese-making is also reused for ricotta and serac cheese, butter, and protein powder.