energy transition

Angel Nzihou: Waste is worth its weight in gold

For Professor Ange Nzihou, garbage is wealth. This researcher has been working for more than ten years to develop them into an economic resource. However, it is not in the laboratories of ITM Mines Albi that his greatest scientific achievements are to be found. During his career, Ange Nzihou has done more than convert biomass into biofuels, or make catalysts from various waste and residues. By creating the world WasteEng conference and a journal on the subject of waste recovery, he has helped to federate a global scientific community on this future-oriented topic.
« JI come from an African country where everyone wants to work in oil." says Ange Nzihou, a researcher at IMT Mines Albi where he heads the Rapsodee Laboratory. Not escaping this rule, he joined Toulouse in the early 1990s to undertake a thesis on the crystallization of gas hydrates - which he successfully defended. All the signals are then green for the young process engineering researcher to enter the oil industry. But research stories are first and foremost life stories. And Ange Nzihou's story led him to brutally question the path that was opening up for him. "Not having French nationality at that time, I was almost undocumented for two years. It was during this difficult period that I built the research project I am still conducting today, analysing what I saw around me and wondering where the future lay. »
This future is then envisaged in the recovery of the tons of waste and pollutants that we produce, at a time when only treatment seemed to interest the scientific community. "For me it wasn't so much the treatment that was interesting, but rather to give properties to a treated product to give it an economic value by virtue of its functions." he remembers. It is at IMT Mines Albi that he will begin to translate this vision into concrete research actions. Through numerous projects, he will develop different processes to recover several types of waste, from river sludge to household garbage and industrial waste.
Since its beginnings, Ange Nzihou has always wished to anchor his research in an international dynamic. His team of eleven doctoral students comes from ten different countries. For him, being open to external approaches is both a guarantee of humility and the quality of his work. They allow him to question his ideas and to draw new ones from them, drawing inspiration from the approach that other companies are developing towards waste. This vision of research has led him to become an associate professor at the universities of Princeton in the United States, Dublin in Ireland, and Zhejiang in China. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has also awarded him the Progress and innovation in research prize in 2015.

A global meeting

By Ange Nzihou's own admission though, "The most striking thing is not the patents or publications, but everything we've managed to create around them". Starting with WasteEng A biennial international conference, the first edition of which took place in 2005. "I thought I had a hundred people." recalls the researcher. In the end, more than 300 researchers and engineers took part in this first conference on the theme of waste and biomass recovery. "There was a need that I knew was there, but that I had underestimated." he concedes.
Today, the event is a world reference in the field. Every two years it brings together more than 400 people from over 50 different countries. Characteristic dear to the founder of this event: his community is open to industry and institutions. "A quarter of the people come from business and government institutions, which is essential because they are the ones who are on the ground and who really create value. » At each edition, Ange Nzihou invites representatives of the European Commission as well, to present trends and connect research to policy decisions.
WasteEng, whose next edition will take place in 2018 in Prague, is a pioneering event in the discipline. The excitement that accompanies the conference is a testament to the new concerns of societies around the world. Because waste recovery issues are not the same everywhere in the world, the international dimension gives the event its full value. In France, we incinerate plastic that is not recycled, but it is out of the question to do that in Africa or other developing countries," he says. There you have to manage to recycle. »
Among the multitude of topics discussed at the conference, a few are a little more close to his heart. This is the case of energy production from waste. "Many solutions today propose to use biomass to generate energy. The problem is that this use competes with food and the availability of land for cultivation. On the other hand, I like the idea of using waste rather than biomass. » (See box) Another benefit the researcher praises is that it avoids environmental disasters such as the one Malaysia is experiencing with the unbridled production of palm oil for energy purposes on land that could be used to produce food.

Pyrog: an example of waste to energy recovery
In 2015, the Pyrog project, supported by the Future Investment Program (PIA) under the impetus of ADEME, was launched with the aim of recovering solid recovered fuels (CSR). These residues bring together everything that is currently difficult to recycle. IMT Mines Albi and IMT Atlantique have joined forces with two companies: Séché Environnement and ETIA. Using a pyrolysis process, the synthesis gas produced was used for district heating. This project is being implemented on the Séché site at Changé in Mayenne. This project illustrates the potential of waste recycling to produce energy locally, with a lower environmental impact.


Literature for waste

In line with WasteEng, Ange Nzihou founded a scientific journal dedicated to the issues of waste recovery: "Waste and biomass valorisation. Launched in 2010 with the'Springer publisherit was a gamble for the researcher. It paid off, as it quickly became a success with the scientific community. Every year since 2010, the number of articles submitted to the journal has doubled. "It's the first newspaper adapted to this theme." says Ange Nzihou, now editor-in-chief.
The journal is not the only stone contributed by the researcher to the building of a literary culture on the subject of waste recycling. He is currently editing an encyclopaedia on this subject. The work is intended to be a reference for all those who wish to know how to analyse, study, treat and convert waste and various residues. "We want to address students as well as engineers, researchers and operators in the economic world." says Ange Nzihou.
Always driven by an international approach, he joined forces with researchers from 17 countries to produce this encyclopedia. It should be published in September 2018 and distributed in universities and libraries worldwide.
Through all these actions, Ange Nzihou continues to express his vision of a society capable of better exploiting its waste to meet its needs. Since its beginnings, he has been working to take his questions and proposals out of the laboratory by federating a community on the scale of a planet that increasingly urgently requires alternatives to fossil resources.
(Source : I'MTech - 26/02/2018)

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