Innovation Region Fessenheim: The Results of the Feasibility Study have been released
The territory project “Notre ambition commune pour l’avenir du territoire de Fessenheim” (Our Shared Vision for the Future of the Fessenheim Region), which was signed on 1 February 2019 by thirteen German and French partners, was adopted on the occasion of the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant in Fessenheim, Alsace. The project testifies to their shared intention to further develop the region into a model for an emission-neutral economy in Europe. This refers to an economy that relies on its areas of competence and innovation; an economy that creates jobs and added value for the region, which includes the Communauté de Communes Pays Rhin Brisach; the triangle of Colmar, Mulhouse and Freiburg; and the Département Haut-Rhin in general.
The project offers the unique opportunity to come together and reflect on how the region can be further developed in an emission-neutral, innovative and future-oriented way. At the heart of the cross-border development of the region is the advancement of new technologies along with the promotion of local added value and the creation of jobs.
The Fessenheim territory project is one of the first of 15 priority projects included in the Treaty of Aachen. This treaty, also known as the Franco-German Treaty on Collaboration and Integration, affirmed the countries’ commitment to coordinate a regional project to redesign and repurpose the area around the Fessenheim nuclear power plant with the help of projects that will contribute to the energy transition as well as innovation.
Against this background, a joint feasibility study was commissioned for the implementation of innovative actions to facilitate an energy transition. Representatives from science, economy, administration, and society from both countries were involved in the study.
The study received funding from the French state, the Région Grand Est, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community and the State Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of the State of Baden-Württemberg.
Feasibility Study Innovation Region Fessenheim
“The basic idea of the feasibility study is to identify viable transformation paths for the energy sector connected with a sustainable future-oriented industry, incorporating relevant studies, science partners and stakeholders from society as well as industry.”
Prof Barbara Koch, Director of the Upper Rhine Cluster for Sustainability Research
The feasibility study was a joint project of the trinational university alliance Eucor – The European Campus together with the Upper Rhine Cluster for Sustainability Research. Under the leadership of the Board of Directors of the Upper Rhine Cluster for Sustainability Research, four Franco-German competence groups drew up concrete pilot projects in the areas of “Green Batteries with Circular Economy”, “Smart Grids”, and “Hydrogen”, with the fourth group studying the societal, legal, and ecological challenges connected to these pilot projects. The feasibility study’s budget of altogether 800,000 euros for its realisation was financed in equal parts (one quarter each) by the State of Baden-Württemberg, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Republic of France, and the Région Grand Est. The study was conducted over a period of 15 months (January 2021–March 2022).
Key Elements for an Innovation Region
The study identified four key elements that can contribute to creating an innovation region with international impact:
- Regional living labs in which technological ideas and sustainable energy systems can be tested and presented to citizens.
- Transformation and innovation hubs in which scientific expertise meets industry and potential investors.
- Ideas and plans for strengthening the model region, including vocational training, further education, and teaching.
- Engaging in a discourse with representatives from the communities in the region.
Based on the feasibility study, two visions for the region can be formulated:
- The Fessenheim area will be developed into a cross-border European innovation region by bringing together local stakeholders from science, the economy, and society.
- The Fessenheim region is a European role model for the societal and industrial transformation toward sustainability.
Pilot Projects as Best Practice Examples
In order to promote the transformation toward sustainability and climate neutrality, the competence groups are proposing ten pilot projects.
As a step toward a sustainable and emission-neutral energy sector, the study recommends the use of green batteries that are produced, recycled, and reused in a circular economy. In the field of battery technologies, there is no long-term alternative to a circular economy. This is because the booming battery market will lead to a mass of outdated batteries in the future. Pilot projects in this area focus on the second life utilisation of electric vehicle batteries, suitable infrastructure for the dismantling and recycling of batteries as well as a factory for producing high-performance batteries. The report recommends that the entire processing line be located in the region.
While batteries promise important progress – for example, in passenger traffic – they are not suitable for energy-intensive, industrial processes. This is where hydrogen comes in. It can be used for the transport of oversized loads or for shipping, for example. In order to transform the Upper Rhine into a trading base for green energy, the study recommends establishing a hydrogen hub and realising four pilot projects revolving around a hydrogen energy system. One recommendation is to supply large-scale industry with green hydrogen and to build a virtual, container-based pipeline for its flexible import. The study also recommends expanding the potential of hydrogen-based transport on roads to reduce the carbon footprint of regional road transport. The fourth project that is recommended is the use of Agri-PV (photovoltaic on agricultural land) and biomass for the local production of hydrogen.
The importance of smart grids is growing as a way to optimise the production and consumption of electricity. Smart electricity management is a key to the successful transformation of the energy market. As a step toward a smart grid, the existing regional grid will first be mapped and different scenarios modelled. The goal is to establish a joint electricity transmission grid. In a first pilot project, it is recommended that smart grids be installed in two neighbourhoods in France (Mulhouse) and Germany (Karlsruhe) as a test environment for smart grid management. This project is intended to demonstrate how smart grids optimise energy consumption, among other things. The study recommends integrating e-mobility into the first pilot project in order to optimise the electric grid load within the network of charging stations in these neighbourhoods. Furthermore, it is recommended that the existing regional electric grid be mapped and its weaknesses analysed for an optimal cross-border exchange of electricity.
The competence group “Territorial Framework” explored the territorial challenges for the implementation The competence group “Territorial Framework” explored the territorial challenges for the implementation of these objectives. It reviewed their social acceptability, environmental impact, territorial exchange and legal framework. Because analysis showed that objective knowledge has little to do with the level of acceptability, the group has recommended careful communication to establish a positive image of the pilot projects. Thanks to their research of the environmental effects, the group has produced important insights and impact assessments for the individual pilot projects. The transformation of Fessenheim into a sustainable and innovative region poses certain legal question as well. The collaboration across borders could be the key to developing an attractive legal framework. For example, the Innovation Region Fessenheim could be treated as a bilateral innovation zone along the Rhine, meaning it could receive funding according to EU energy law and make use of the derogation clause stated in the Aachen Treaty.
Two cornerstones were identified as success factors for the implementation of the recommended pilot projects. In addition to the profitability of the investments required (business case), the support and acceptability of society also plays a major role.
The feasibility study demonstrates that the Innovation Region Fessenheim has the potential to develop The feasibility study demonstrates that the Innovation Region Fessenheim has the potential to develop into a European cross-border regional innovation system, or CBRIS. The next step should be to work out more concrete plans for the implementation of the pilot projects, particularly by involving representatives from German and French industry. A holistic analysis of the pilot projects is necessary for a sustainable transformation process. The Upper Rhine region and its existing clusters of industry have the opportunity to show how a trinational region can be transformed into a future-oriented, sustainable innovation region by pooling resources on both sides of the Rhine.
Prof. Barbara Koch
Prof. Alain Dieterlen
Université de Haute-Alsace
Prof. Thomas Hirth
Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)
Prof. Dominique Badariotti
Université de Strasbourg