The Corbat Group: gasification of wood residues

A family business, Groupe Corbat, which operates a sawmill in the Swiss Jura region, told Le Temps about its hydrogen production project.

After using up as much of the logs as possible, there was still some wood waste. The idea was to use this waste to produce hydrogen by gasification (basically, very high heat is applied to separate the hydrogen from the rest). This would also produce solid carbon (biochar), which could be used to fertilize soils.

This is one method of hydrogen production that has a bad reputation. Indeed, it is used extensively in China to produce hydrogen from coal. The process releases a lot of CO2. However, since biomass is involved here, the CO2 released will in fact have been captured by the tree in the first place. So this would be low-carbon hydrogen production.

I like this project for several reasons:

  • We’re putting waste to good use.
  • Exploiting forests is a very interesting lever in the fight against climate change: it’s probably the only truly sustainable storage of carbon that exists, since a standing forest can always burn and release everything it has stored. Sawmills are important allies in this respect, and it seems to me that there is a serious shortage of them in France.
  • They mobilize heavy transport themselves and could therefore use their own hydrogen.

This is clearly a step in the direction of ecomobility(hydrogen mobility to be precise) and the circular economy.

It would be interesting to have a detailed carbon balance of the operation:

  • Emissions from the process itself (in principle offset by the fact that it’s biomass)
  • Emissions linked to the production of heat/energy to run the reaction

It would also be very interesting to know how much carbon capture (CCUS) would have cost for their project.

An initiative to follow.