CETUDES5 + cadre


The anaerobic digestion industry

Stéphane Michun

Céreq Etudes, n° 5, december 2017, 47 p.

The anaerobic digestion industry in France, in all its complexity, is still getting off the ground. This study, conducted on the basis of interviews with actors in the industry, looks at the attempts to put a figure on the number of jobs, direct and indirect, likely to be created and, from a more qualitative point of view, details the competences required. Although few specific qualifications are emerging, modules devoted to anaerobic digestion, albeit usually optional ones, are already being offered on initial training programmes. However, it is in continuing training that most of the development is taking place, particularly in the agricultural sector.


The AD industry in France, in all its complexity, is still getting off the ground. The French model is explicitly structured around the processing and recovery of organic waste. However, AD projects vary considerably and there are fairly pronounced tensions between different cultures.

‘Anaerobic digestion is industry not infrastructure’ (Biogaz Vallée), but it is also ‘a lever for regional development’ (Rhône‐Alpes Energie Environnement) and an opportunity to develop a different, more ‘entrepreneurial’ approach to farm diversification (Association des Agriculteurs Méthaniseurs de France). Despite these tensions, AD is arousing a certain degree of interest.

Relatively ambitious development targets for the years to come have been set by the public authorities at both national and regional level. The regulatory, technical, financial and societal obstacles have been fairly clearly identified, but human capital remains the industry’s blind spot. The job prospects are hardly prodigious but nor are they insignificant. On the assumption that government targets for the production of energy and heat from biogas for 2020 will be met, the ATEE’s Biogas Club estimates that the number of direct jobs in the industry will increase from 2,046 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in 2014 to 6,134 FTEs in 2020. Most of these jobs are likely to be in operation and maintenance, with jobs linked to development and site construction accounting for only one quarter of FTEs in 2020.

This employment dynamic will have to be supported by investment in human capital. Improved collaboration between research institutes, manufacturers and users could hasten the development of AD in France, but this will not be sufficient.

The construction and operation of an AD unit requires a wide range of different competences, whether technical (understanding of the biological process and its consequences for the management of inputs, maintenance and energy performance), legal and administrative, economic (positioning of AD within the overall strategy, financial arrangement, calculation of the energy produced, estimation of expenditure and income, etc.) or relational. Because of its duration and the rigour it demands on the part of the promoter, a project’s gestation period serves to dissuade those whose plans have not been sufficiently well developed or who do not have the resources to put them into practice; on the other hand, it also offers those who, from stage to stage, are able to overcome the difficulties and gain in expertise an opportunity to learn and acquire the necessary competences.

This upstream phase is often supported or even triggered by advisers, particularly those from the ADEME and chambers of agriculture, through information and awareness campaigns. It is also an opportunity for the transfer of competences between the project promoter and his contacts, whether in the market or non-market sector, or between project promoters and the operators of an AD plant. The importance of exchanges between peers was underlined time and time again by our interviewees.

 What about training? Although few specific qualifications have emerged, modules devoted to AD, which are usually optional, are already being offered in initial training programmes. However, most of the development is taking place in continuing training, particularly in the agricultural sector. Some good practices have been identified in this area. We would argue that there should, at the very least, be a basic training programme accessible to all. Two areas of technical training turn out to be indispensable, namely the biology of anaerobic digestion and knowledge of the equipment (cogeneration module, incorporators, pumps, measuring instruments, etc.). In the medium term, it would seem to us advisable to set up a more ambitious training pathway that would prepare operators of AD units to deal with the numerous and various risks they have to face.

This study was conducted in 2015 and 2016 on the basis of interviews with actors in the industry. It was carried out under the terms of the long-term partnership agreement between Céreq and the CGDD (the General Commission for Sustainable Development) on the implementation of the National Plan for the adaptation of occupations and jobs in the transition towards the green economy.

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