Following the call for projects “Physical devices and software for intelligent supervision of biomethane production facilities” launched by GRDF in May and June 2020, some 50 innovative companies, Research and start-up laboratories made proposals for improving monitoring of methanisation sites. 9 projects were selected following the analysis of the files, and continue the selection process.

Three categories were created, three “sensor” projects, three “man-machine software or interfaces” projects and three “predictive maintenance” proposals. We invite you to discover each of these innovative companies in a series of articles.

  • The solution as you would explain it to your grandmother

The solution we presented – “Predict Adapt” – helps the operators of methanisation plants to avoid unexpected shutdowns and to reduce the associated costs. This means eliminating curative maintenance costs and production downtime.

Predict-Adapt detects and identifies the onset of any type of failure (mechanical, electrical, or process), and gives the operator sufficient notice for the necessary maintenance actions to be scheduled.

Our source of information is a fine analysis of the electrical signal that supplies every machine in the installation. The very slight variations in this signal tell us about the health of the machine. All of the machines can be monitored, whether this concerns the handling of the inputs and digestates, or the injection and recovery side.

Data can be displayed and alerts received on a PC or phone. This is advantageous both for local operators, who can prioritise their service actions, and for a central supervision team, which consolidates the data.

  • The key word (concept) to understand

The key idea is about unexpected shutdowns and their consequences:

The total cost of a shutdown can sometimes be inordinately high. It includes the call-out time for an expert, the necessary parts, and above all, a loss of production affecting all or part of the facility.

There is a human impact also, because half of accidents involving people occur during non-routine actions (emergency maintenance, start-up).

In short: these events have a significant human and financial impact on the company. Avoiding them is a must.

  • The key selling point, THE real difference in the market

Our solution is probably the only one that provides true scalability, thanks to how easy it is to install and operate, and its controlled cost:

  • it is designed to monitor all types of machine,
  • it is installed in the same way on all machines, at very low cost,
  • the box is standalone and lasts for the entire lifetime of the machine,
  • its operation does not require any special skills.

If any one of these qualities were lacking, the highly valuable scalability would be lost. As an additional selling point, we could also envisage using our solutions to report information arriving from other sensors.

PROJECT PROMOTERS

  • The team, how the project evolved, the issues

Laurent Laparra started out by setting up an energy-saving consultancy business, advising companies. In 2015, when a team was recruited and a first solution was launched, the company was transformed into a real tech startup.

Eco-Adapt integrates the latest advanced IoT (Internet of Things) technologies to offer Power-Adapt: a simple, exhaustive, and affordable solution to track energy consumption and ambient factors in buildings and industry.

It then became apparent that more could be achieved by making the whole wealth of data contained in electrical signals more accessible in terms of cost and ease of reading. Predict-Adapt was born!

To do this, the team stabilised with around a dozen people with very technical backgrounds. It then brought together all the expertise required for the solution to be able to acquire a raw signal and then process it automatically and return its essence via a web app.

The next step will be to ramp up the number of machines monitored, and the team will probably grow too!

  • What excites him

To bring cutting edge technology to the greatest possible number of operators easily and at moderate cost. We are constantly testing new things in-house, and then on a pilot basis with customers. Large-scale deployment is very satisfying.

  • The popular misconception that irritates him

In general, the simplistic mystique that surrounds Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and their ability to fulfil any human role.

When approaching a subject it might seem simple, so you see startups offering miraculous solutions and riding high on big promises. But those promises turn out to be difficult to keep with AI alone. The fundamental role of the human being, sometimes the professional expert or the data scientist, which is necessary to deliver value, is sometimes obscured by all of the marketing talk. But it reappears in the structural, integration, and consultancy costs!

To avoid this aberration, we had to stand firm and be able to keep repeating the definition of our target: delimit the service provided by the solution, its architecture, and how it integrates into existing operating processes. We also had to push our understanding of the topic very far to gain the perspective and the control required to develop this solution. We had to process countless tests, pilots, and special cases in order to reach a reliable solution. It’s a real challenge, and it takes time.

THE FUTURE

  • What being selected by GRDF would mean for the development of your business

Even though it involves some well-known machines, biomethane is a new segment for us, and this selection is the opportunity to get right to the heart of the subject alongside GRDF, which operates on a national scale, has good technical perspective, and has real ambition for methanisation and biomethane in France, looking ahead to 2030. It’s fascinating.

We hope to be able to contribute the experience we have gained in areas such as water management and renewable energies (wind). Biomethane shares some of the challenges of those sectors, because of the industrial and diffuse nature of the production facilities.

Our value is twofold:

Predict-Adapt makes it easy to send the essence of the data obtained from our machine monitoring both to parties all over the country (operators and local maintenance services) and to a central entity (e.g. supervision and consolidation of GRDF data).

And thanks to Power-Adapt architecture, we can also envisage retrieving data from process sensors, in particular for the analysis of biogases, for production estimates, or anything concerning the integrity of the installations (leak detection, etc.).

  • The main challenges in the sector as a whole

Certain renewable energy sources must face the challenge of intermittence, of storage. Biomethane has some major advantages, and if we succeed in making the most of them, it can play a major part. For energy consumers, it provides a well-managed supply of renewable gas that is not badly affected by intermittence and is storable. For suppliers of inputs and local companies that handle operations, it also lets them recover organic materials from their territories.

  • And, more particularly, the main challenges for the future?

To take full advantage of these strengths, the challenge is to achieve the widespread efficient and durable exploitation of deposits. For our part, we know that our solution meets the needs of biogas. We are ready to guide its development.

The maintenance problems, needs, and the market arising from them, are global. We therefore also support companies in other sectors or other regions. In particular, we can mention Deutsche Bahn (the German railway operator), which has placed its trust in us.

RAPID-FIRE QUESTIONS // THE ENTREPRENEURIAL EXPERIENCE

  • They are soon going to pitch in front of the GRDF panel; no doubt it’s not the first time. Any anecdotes to share with us?

I have a quirky memory of one pitch session with a Russian company during lockdown. The panel’s Zoom backdrops were definitely out of step with the usually serious nature of these meetings: the Open-Innovation Manager was floating in front of the Milky Way, and the VP Operations was at the wheel of his Ferrari!

  • Your first thought each morning?

It goes out to the people on call, called out, or woken up by a failure that could have been prevented. Their tiredness could then go on to create other problems. We must try to liberate them from those stresses.

  • Your first real professional satisfaction

Having earned the trust of equipment suppliers who embed our technology to satisfy the availability targets of their end-user customers.

  • The best pep talk you have ever received?

I will quote a piece of advice instead: “Preparation is key!”

  • Mantra or phrase that you often repeat

Thoughts involving the well-known 80/20 rule.

  • A personal quality?

Curiosity

  • A short message to convince the panel?

“The biggest risk is never taking risks.” Let’s get to work!