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

Our solution is based on a measurement principle that is commonly found in households: the neon tube, also known in more scientific terms as a discharge tube.

The principle is simple: a voltage excites the gas, which responds by displaying a colour. Each gas has its own colour, and for neon, it’s white. In this physical context, the colour represents the identity of the gas.

Our principle is therefore to cause the emission of colours in a mixture of gases to identify them and measure their concentrations using a small sensor (1 cm by 3 cm) that samples the gas and a camera that takes a picture of this light, so that the composition of the gas can be determined.

The key word (concept) to understand?

“Multi-gas” Our sensor simultaneously measures the concentrations of the gases in a mixture, whatever the mixture might be.

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

In fact, our principle is unique and it is versatile: our sensor is not specific to a particular mixture. It can be calibrated for any gaseous mixture, according to

  • the type of mixture
  • the number of gases to measure
  • the precision to be obtained, down to PPM. According to the required precision, we can adapt the type of CCD camera so that it outputs the relevant information for the analysis
  • and according to the level of investment: it guarantees a reasonable purchase cost and operating cost. Because the sensor is always identical irrespective of the business application, it is not expensive

to produce. It is mainly the camera that changes. Moreover, optical measurement is stable over time, so there is no recalibration, no wear…maintenance is simple, involving things like replacing a filter to protect the camera from impurities, which anyone can do. And it is portable too

We chose to develop two sensors with two different modes of operation:

  • EasyTuse, which is intended to continuously analyse the quality of the biogas at the output of each digester according to the inputs. It also monitors whether there are any leaks before the filtration stage. Its price must remain low so that it can be deployed at every outlet of landfill tanks. It is designed to operate in an IoT environment.
  • PolyProSS is intended to be versatile in all other phases: through quick, frequent measurements (every 5 to 30 seconds, according to need), it tracks the composition of the methane throughout its treatment by simultaneously measuring 14 gaseous compounds, including trace gases, with high precision in PPM and %.
  • For the operator, it guarantees fast monitoring of the quality level or “environmental purity” of the biogas delivered to the network operator, and also detects leaks. Because it is portable, it can be moved to small plants if necessary. ATEX certification is possible.

PROJECT PROMOTERS Journeys, associates, partners, etc…the path leading up to the creation of this solution

Catherine Bellet and Gabriel Portillot created Partelec in 1989, partnering with Mitsubishi Electric to become the French distributors of memory cards dedicated to devices that are subject to vibration loads, where it is difficult to use magnetic hard disks to store data or programs. And, in other international operations: we became the importers of the first smartphones…

At that time, our feeling was that the import market was volatile and unstable, hence dangerous for a company in the long term.

In 2010, we decided to develop our own research and create our own intellectual property.

We both have a technical background; Gabriel is a hardware and software engineer, and we are surrounded by people with cutting-edge expertise to launch the design of new products. We started in medical imaging, especially telemedicine solutions for remote diagnosis. In that first project, the question of image processing without perceptual loss already arose. In health, the requirements in terms of quality of image restitution, compression, and display must be demonstrated by clinical tests carried out by healthcare professionals.

All of this required us to achieve total and verifiable control of our tools and optronics software… which allowed us to create the optical design of our multi-gas sensor. Later, we were chosen to design and create a centralised virtual platform incorporating a diagnostic console in telemedicine mode for next-generation electroencephalograms. This history means that today we have the skills to be able to offer automated measurements combined with the centralisation of our sensor results.

That is why we invested 10 years in joint research projects with FUI, CIFRE, and

FEDER. Those collaborative projects allowed us to work in an environment of excellence during our ten years of R&D with laboratories such as UMPC, ETIS, INSERM, LIS, and AP-HP on the academic side. On the industrial side, we have been able to work with a number of highly reputable players: for the sensor, TELEDYNE OLDHAM SIMTRONICS, and for the part involving both “field” and technological skills, we are partners with GaiaNnov.

The major challenges that Partelec wanted to address:

Our research work and its applications mainly concern energy and its impacts: the automotive sector, with the monitoring of pollutant gases, air pollution, the petroleum sector, with the monitoring of high-risk gases such as H2S, the energy sector, such as natural gas for the production of electricity with or without hydrogen, the biogas sector, such as methanisation, etc. Wherever there are gases to monitor.

In the context of biogases, the focus is on monitoring the methanisation chain, with the challenge of automating the whole chain so that those involved can get control of all the constraints they need to manage, and therefore they need a sensor to measure and collect the necessary information.

What excites her

I have been involved in these project for ten years, and this is really what drives me: to succeed in demonstrating that the disruptive technology of our sensor can solve present-day expert analysis problems. I want to persuade big players to invest in this technology and to deploy it.

  • The popular misconception that irritates her

It’s not a misconception, but the mismatch between our enthusiasm, our conviction that our solution is functional, effective, and fit for purpose, on the one hand, and all the hoops we still need to jump through to persuade others to bet on it to get past the prototype stage, on the other hand. We have obtained research tax credit (Crédit Impôt Recherche) approval; that’s a powerful argument!

THE FUTURE

  • What selection by GRDF means

Being convinced that your solution is not enough, we need the support of a major player like GRDF to obtain funding from additional customers or investors to industrialise and deploy our product.

This big project brings together our main skills, and we are very excited about it.

  • The main challenges in the sector as a whole

Government requirements are obliging manufacturers in this sector to change and to invest by automating their entire methanisation chain to grow their production of green energy. We must go along with these requirements, particularly respect for the environment, but also lowering the cost, with sensors able to be efficient from end to end, contributing to increased productivity, monitoring all of the compounds, addressing the whole methanisation chain with a process accessible to all in terms of expertise and costs.

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

The challenge for us is a financial one, since the technological barriers have already been lifted. ATEX certification is an important step, and we already know how to obtain it from the technological point of view.

Because our technical investments are finished, we are ready and we have a demonstrator to undertake and complete the business adaptations required by our future customers.

RAPID-FIRE QUESTIONS // THE ENTREPRENEURIAL EXPERIENCE

  • Your first thought each morning?

It’s a feeling more than a thought: I feel kind of impatient to get this done!

I can’t wait to move on to the next stage, to meet creative people who are good listeners, who are not afraid to take a chance on something new, and who are willing to take a little time to find a well adapted solution. We need a year; that’s a short time, but it seems long to people who are looking for turnkey solutions.

  • Your first real professional satisfaction / best pep talk you have ever received?

For our very first research project with FEDER, we received funding from the European Commission. Above and beyond its financial value, I saw this as recognition of the value of our work to the community. I took that as encouragement, which goes beyond the company… with the common good in mind

  • Mantra or phrase that you often repeat Don’t let go of anything!
  • A personal quality that sums you up: Combativeness
  • A short message to convince the panel?

We are very proud of the ‘Field’ opportunities that our sensor can bring to the biogas industry. Professionals in that sector need more competitive controlled biogas to be able to satisfy the needs of the energy transition

We need GRDF in order to find THE right partner: you can help a French company to capitalise on the potential of its new sensor in applications that are difficult to cope with using the current solutions.