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Innovation and the environment: the subtle alliance of CNR

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The environment is a major concern for CNR. It has long worked in favour of biodiversity and the different species that populate the River Rhone. It is now going further, using ecological techniques to maintain not only its structures, but more besides.

Eco-pastoralism for managing CNR’s banks

CNR wants to instil more harmony between industrial development and environmental preservation. That’s why it has adopted reasoned management for the land of its concession. The maintenance of its dikes and banks has been entrusted to local livestock breeders and their animals. An original and efficient method, it favours the return of pastoralism along the Rhone. By grazing on the long grass, the animals facilitate access for CNR’s teams to monitor the state of the dikes and guarantee the safety of different sites. Moreover, the animals have changed the landscape along the river. The local population has rediscovered the joys of family strolls in a living and natural environment.

This natural form of maintenance without mowing, petrol or pesticides, maintains the biodiversity of the river and its surroundings with rich ecosystems and habitats propitious for numerous species (butterflies, grasshoppers, wild orchids, etc.). Naturalists, scientists and researchers (especially those of the University of Avignon) carry out regular monitoring to measure the impact on the vegetation.

Be Circle: a world first for synergy between companies

Driven by Engie and including CNR among its partners, Be Circle is a European circular economy project deployed on the industrial and port site of Salaise-Sablons (Isère). It entails an application that links GIS mapping to an enhanced database. A decision-aid for managing an industrial site or a  developer intending to construct a facility, it is used to identify possible interactions between the actors in the same territory (energy, water, gas, goods, etc.). It is also intended for companies that want to optimise their synergy with their territory, and for network operators who want information on needs and wish to simulate developments of their networks.

A multi-flow, multi-network and multi-sector tool for visualisation and simulation, Be Circle is a world first with respect to its level of data integration.

BI-O-Rhône: better harmony between hydropower operations and the life of plant and animal species

In partnership with Services Industriels de Genève (SIG) and the Advanced School of Landscaping, Engineering and Architecture (HEPIA), CNR has launched the BI-O-Rhône project designed to limit the impacts of sediment management on aquatic fauna.

It combines the observation of the fish population in the four hydropower reservoirs between Lake Geneva and Seyssel dam over a period of 5 years. It is carried out before, during and after dam flushing operations, with one campaign per season, by linking non-intrusive echo-sounding and environmental DNA techniques. Eventually, BI-O-Rhône will allow adapting the techniques used to remove sediment in order to better preserve biodiversity. This project is jointly funded by the European Interreg Fund, France-Switzerland.

Environmental DNA (eDNA): used for the first time on a river

Environmental DNA (eDNA) is one of the methods used to assess the river’s biodiversity. Validated in spring 2016, in partnership with Spygen, a biotech company specialised in biodiversity inventories, it is used experimentally to establish a map of the fish species living in the Rhone. This innovative process, spotted by an employee of CNR, consists in isolating and identifying traces of deoxyribonucleic acid left by fishes in water. It had never been experimented in a river. The results of samples taken during a single campaign at a hundred points between Switzerland and the Mediterranean – on the Rhone, some of its side waters and its main tributaries – are comparable to the data acquired over several years from fishing operations. All the areas of species distribution were revealed, including migrating species such as shad and eels and rare ones like the rock pickerel, identified at Avignon. Continuing the improvement of detailed knowledge of habitats will allow, for example, verifying the efficient operation of the structures that cross the river, observing the possible impacts of sediment dredging on aquatic fauna, and ensuring that dredging is performed in such a way as to minimise its impacts on aquatic fauna.

The Perennial Cereals project participates in research on agricultural evolutions

CNR is asserting itself as a major partner in research on the agri-ecological transition of the agricultural sector, by playing an active role in the development of perennial cereals. Contrary to current annual cereals, perennial varieties fructify several times during their lifetimes, producing grain and fodder and ensuring protection for the soil. The result of agri-ecological innovation, they respond to a dual productive and environmental challenge. This is why the research dedicated to them must be reinforced, to confirm their potential. This is where CNR intervenes since some of the experimental plots will be sown in the north-south axis of the Rhone Valley, thanks to the collaboration between CNR and several departmental chambers of agriculture of Auvergne Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

Floating solar power plants and smart irrigation for better energy use

CNR is innovating in several sectors to obtain greater advantage from its water resources and the sun. Thus, alongside Suez and the SMHAR, CNR is testing a smart irrigation network to reduce water consumption and the energy cost of its supply (Millery-Mornant, Rhône). The goal is the following: supply water at the most appropriate moment as a function of crop requirements, soil water content, meteorological forecasts and the evolution of electricity prices.

Furthermore, CNR has developed a floating solar panel platform on an irrigation basin managed by the SMHAR, on Lake La Madone (Rhône). Ô Solaire is CNR’s first floating solar power plant. It combines renewable energy production within an irrigation network.

First, the energy produced is injected into the electricity grid to finally power the irrigation pumps, creating a circuit of self-consumption. The site also participates in sustainable agriculture: to perpetuate and protect the aquatic population, 16 fish refuges have been installed under the floats supporting the solar panels.