How do we implement circular economy at a regional level?

2 January 2017

What are the endogenous resources available in the region? Which value chains should be prioritized? What are the opportunities for valorization and the challenges involved?

These questions were raised by the region, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) after the adoption of the French law on energy transition. After establishing a circular economy strategy, the region is now working on a regional biomass plan, dealing with many actors having different political and industrial interests.


The French law on energy transition of August 2015 provides that each region has to define a Regional Biomass Plan (SRB), setting out strategic guidelines about production chains and biomass valorization for energy use, according to the principles of circular economy.

What is circular economy? Definition proposed by the French Institute for Circular Economy (IEC)

Circular economy, inspired by the functioning of natural ecosystems, has the objective of helping decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources by creating innovative products, services, business models and public policies.

This model is based on the creation of positive value loops when using or reusing a product before its final disposal. The emphasis lies on new design, production and consumption methods, the extension of products shelf life, and the recycling of their components.


Being the third largest French region (31 400 km²), the PACA comprises of the largest non-developed, natural surface area, having about 20% agricultural land and almost 50% forest cover. A diagnosis of circular economy in the region in 2016 resulted in a comprehensive analysis of five value chains and the quantification of the imported, extracted, consumed and exported resources in the region. The report ‘A roadmap for a regional strategy of circular economy’ was co-written by Sofies, on the basis of this study..

The PACA region is now pursuing the actions detailed in the roadmap and is one of the first to realize its Regional Biomass Plan, with the help of a consortium, of which Sofies is a member. The initial work highlights the challenges linked to the possible uses and the competition between sectors.

For example, among the many methods of biomass valorization (biofuels, firewood, combustion, methanization, agro-materials and bio-based chemistry),which one would provide us with the most optimal result?

For instance, according to the Regional Direction for Environment, Planning and Housing (DREAL), the forest in PACA is considered to be under-exploited. Only 60 000 m3, which represents a fifth of the annual production, is currently used for industry, timber and heating.

This resource surplus is being looked at by several actors:

  • two large industrial projects are using forest biomass to produce electricity,
  • the bio-sourced chemical industries have an interest in the Aleppo pine,
  • the demand for firewood is increasing while the paper mil of Tarascon only uses local wood.

How do we exploit this resource favourably and sustainably? How do we guide the stakeholders in order to optimize the valorization of this resource?

To be able to provide guidelines for the region, it is essential to have an overview of the available resource deposits, the technological progresses and an understanding of the actors’ and entrepreneurs’ intentions. The challenge lies in the adoption of a transversal approach, enabling knowledge sharing and collaboration.


Agnès de Souza and Benoît Charrière

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