While the United Nations has been celebrating World Soil Day on December 5 since 2014, Maelenn has been an ardent champion of soil protection for many years. The young engineer and geologist had only just joined Veolia’s Research & Innovation division (VERI) over 20 years ago when she published a scientific article on the subject in partnership with INRA*. In it, she set out what would become her hobby horse: compost’s potential in the fight against soil degradation. This thinking is now coming into its own, with the UN calling for a stop to soil erosion in its 2019 campaign.
Maelenn very soon had the opportunity to dig into subjects relatively unexplored at the time, such as organic matter return to soil and waste recovery. In particular, she would experience one of VERI’s key projects conducted in partnership with INRA from the inside: the QualiAgro field trial, a scheme in which compost from urban waste is compared to a benchmark bovine manure. In 2014, she set up a unit dedicated to innovation and development within SEDE, Veolia’s Agronomic hub, where she is flourishing today.
At the head of her team, Maelenn continually looks for new expertise to integrate into the range of solutions offered to clients. Starting with fields linked to the circular economy (anaerobic digestion, biofuels, etc.) and digital.
“For me, innovation lies in significantly improving our sectors of activity, as well as disruption and preparing for the fields of the future,” she explains.
She also spends a good deal of time unearthing start-ups and SMEs with original ideas that have the potential to be developed in SEDE and its subsidiaries’ areas of activity: treating and recovering sewage sludge and organic and mineral waste (dewatering, biodrying, composting, anaerobic digestion, agricultural reuse, energy recovery, etc.), and commercializing composts, fertilizers and biostimulants.
The efforts of this “Resourcer,” firmly committed to projects invariably on the frontiers of science, agriculture and regulations, have paid off! In 2018, her SmartFertiReuse pilot project — a concept based on reusing treated wastewater in agriculture in response to the water stress taking hold worldwide — received funding and the ministerial order for testing in the Hautes Pyrénées region. Another source of pride is the partnership with the Israeli start-up Bioplasmar, two years after discovering this young company that had just patented a concept for biodegradable flower pots. This meeting led to a joint venture by the name of “PoEthic.” A plant is currently being built near Chatellerault, in France’s Vienne department, and millions of flower pots will be produced from 2020.
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* French National Institute for Agricultural Research