Circular Economy series #9: Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes


Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes (AURA) is has an advanced and innovative economy, many mountains and a central European location. And what about the circular economy? The region is know for its cleantech sector! If you’re wondering what that is, you’ll find that out (and much more) in this blog.

This blog is written by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Paris and explains the opportunities for Dutch organisations in France in the field of circular economy.


AURA in numbers

  • 8 million inhabitants
    • Or 12% of the French population
  • 69 711 km2 surface area
    • Which is bigger than the Netherlands (41 543 km2)!
    • And has a population density of 115 inhabitants per km2
  • 250 billion euros GDP
    • Which constitutes 11.46% of the national GDP

Key economic sectors

  • Clean tech
  • Energy (20% of French energy – mostly nuclear – comes from this region)
  • Life Sciences & Health
  • (Technical) textiles

The regional economy

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, abbreviated to AURA, is located in the southeast of France, bordering Switzerland and Italy and five other French regions (Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Occitanie, Centre-Val-de-Loire, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur). Thanks to this central location, the region has is an important European hub, which contributes to the region’s strong international focus.

The regional capital is Lyon. The Netherlands Business Support Office Lyon is part of the network of the Embassy of the Netherlands in France and supports all Dutch companies who are looking to expand their business to the southeast of France.

CE strategy

Just like in the rest of France, the French environment agency ADEME has a regional office in AURA to implement the regional strategy for the transition to the circular economy and sustainability in general. The agency supports relevant stakeholders (local government organisations, companies, associations) with implementing sustainability practices. The regional sustainability priorities are:

  • Transition to the circular economy;
  • Development of sustainable and renewable energy;
  • Energy-renovation of buildings;
  • Green and smart mobility;
  • Implementation of territorial actions, especially the ‘Green Growth Positive Energy Territories’ (TEPOS-CV).

Innovation focused

AURA has an innovative economy, because of the large industrial sector and a many research and development organisations in different fields. This is illustrated by the amount of patent applications from the region: in 2012 21.7% of French patent applications came from the AURA region. Specialties lie in: life sciences & health, environment, physics, electronics, chemistry, energy and transportation.

Competitiveness clusters (pôles de compétivité) push for even more innovation, as they bring together SMEs, big companies, research institutes and schools (such as universities) from the same sector to work together on a specific theme. The clusters are financially supported by the French government. Their goal is to develop new innovative public-private collaboration projects. Moreover, the clusters support their member organisations to bring such innovations to the market. That makes them hotspots of economic activity and a motor of productivity for the region.

These pôles are active in the AURA region:

  • Axelera: chemics and eco-technology.
  • Cara cluster: transport, motorisation, design and confort of vehicles.
  • CIMES: mechanics (a fusion of Mont-Blanc-Industries and ViaMéca).
  • Elastopôle: rubber and polymers.
  • Imaginove: innovative and creative technology.
  • Lyonbiopôle: biotechnology and health.
  • Minalogic: micro technique, mechanics and IT-technology.
  • Plastipolis: plastics and packaging.
  • Techtera*: functional and technical textiles, lightweight materials and innovative fibers.
  • Tenerrdis: hydrolics, solar energy, biomass and hydrogen.
  • Terralia: food, agriculture and vegetables in southeastern France.
  • Vegepolys: agriculture and cereal products.

* Techtera

To illustrate the work of such clusters, let’s look closer at Techtera: the cluster for textiles. They have a dedicated network for circular economy in the textile industry called RECIT (Recyclage et Economie Circulaire dans l’Industrie Textile) since 3 years. This network of companies and other organisations is dedicated to set up collaborative valorization initiatives for textile waste, with an important local commitment. Specifically the RECIT members works together on:

  • Setting up a waste collection among companies for the consolidation of the deposit.
  • Traceability and identification of the leftovers (forms, quantities, recurrence…).
  • Eco-design for reducing production waste (processes, production management methods).
  • Necessary technologies to deal with production leftovers (Future and existing processes and innovations).
  • Valorisation through upcycling and collaboration with designers.
  • Business model of a recycling industry (costs, benefits…).
  • Applicative markets and products made with recycled.



What makes AURA an interesting region for circular economy stakeholders is its leading position in France in the field of clean technologies, referred to as cleantech. To maintain this position, the region invests 54 million euros annually in the cleantech sector, which is divided into four categories: chemistry, environment, energy and construction. And out of 155 startups in the cleantech sector in AURA, the majority focuses on energy efficiency (25%), followed by renewable energy (23%), smart city (12%), energy storage (10%), agtech en green chemistry (8%) and green mobility (6%). So which products belong in this sector? Think: water purification systems, low carbon cement, electric boilers, powdered insects as fish feed, and battery optimization. It is a versatile sector! The thing they have in common is that they use tech for good, i.e. using technology for sustainable innovations.

It is therefore no surprise that Lyon hosts a large, bi-annual international fair for cleantech and environment professionals: Pollutec. The event provides a platform for environmental and energy solutions for industries, cities and territories, and is a springboard for innovations and international collaboration. There are multiple exhibition areas, including: waste, water, energy, air, smart cities, biodiversity, and more. During the last edition in 2018, 70 000 professionals from 128 countries attended and 2200 companies exhibited their sustainable solutions. In 2020, the Pollutec will take place from 1-4 December. This video, made by the NBSO Lyon, explain the opportunities for Dutch organisations at the Pollutec.


Best practices from the region

How does AURA work on a regional circular economy? Let’s look at some examples that illustrate the transition in different economic sectors, from cars to jeans and from industry to compost! And if you want to know even more, find a full and comprehensive overview of the AURA initiatives for the circular economy made by OREE (in French).

Car recycling

What to do with a car at its end-of-life? The fact that a car consists of metals and different types of plastic, polluting fluids (engine oils, gearboxes, brake fluids, etc.) and non-recyclable organic materials makes the recycling process complex. In France, Indra is the leader in car recycling, focusing on safety of the process and retaining materials. Their recycling process is done in five steps: (1) identification of the vehicle and its materials, (2) triggering pyrotechnic elements (such as airbags), (3) de-pollution (extraction of fluids, batteries, filters, etc.), (4) targeted deconstruction to sort and disassemble materials optimally, (5) selling parts and materials to third parties. Currently, 95% of the car’s materials can be recycled!


Infini(te) jeans

The life cycle of Infini jeans begins at the Antex company, who manufactures Seaqual™ yarn from plastic bottles and recycled marine litter. This 100% recycled yarn is then dyed in Pont-de-Labeaume, woven in Coublanc, and manufactured into jeans in Marseille and sold by the French jeans brand 1083. And what makes Infini jeans even more circular, is the business model. Every pair of jeans is collected by 1083 at its end-of-life. To make sure the jeans come back, customers pay a deposit of €20 which is reimbursed when returned. That way, the jeans can be re-transformed into yarn and into new Infini jeans!

Recycled skis

The French Alpes are a perfect place for winter sports. But what to do with all those skis, snowboards, poles, sleds, and shoes at their end-of-life? The waste management company Tri-Vallées set up a recycling system for winter sports equipment. Materials from over 400 stores in 45 ski resorts are collected in special containers. The metals are reused as raw materials, composite materials are crushed and converted into energy for a cement plant. In doing so, 3000 tonnes of equipment have been 100% recycled since 2007!


Up in smoke

Cigarette waste poses a huge risk for the environment, because each bud contains approximately 2500 chemical components, takes 12 years to degrade depending on the environment, and pollutes 500 liters of water on average. In France, 40 000 cigarette buds are thrown on the ground a year! Just like in Brittany, there are several recycling companies in AURA that valorize cigarette waste. EcoMégot and Cy-clope collect cigarette buds to recycle into new materials. Both companies offer a full-service solution, from collection to recycling of the waste. After collection, Cy-clope transforms the cigarettes into a substitute for wood for the cement industry, while EcoMégot has a research and development unit that uses the waste to experiment how to best extract harmful chemicals and recycle the three waste streams: tobacco, paper and filters.

Local compost

In France, 98% of organic waste is incinerated and 2% is transported far outside of cities for recycling, while it could be valorized locally. Moreover, 30% of household waste consists of organic waste. Therefore, Alchimistes was founded to create a local value chain for organic waste in AURA. They collect organic waste from professionals by bicycle or truck and bring it to a local treatment site (less than 10 km away). In micro-industrial sites, the waste is composted in 8 weeks (vs. the 9 months it would take to compost the waste domestically). Lastly, the resulting compost is sold to local customers to help cities become greener. The company is rapidly growing across France and is now active from Lyon to Paris, Marseille and even La Réunion. As a next step, the company is experimenting in collaboration with the food chain Cojean to compost disposable cutlery.

Circular industry

As part of the European programme Climate-KIC, BE CIRCLE works on the circular economy for industrial businesses. Active in Belgium and France (and specifically the AURA region), the aim is to develop an operational set of services for industrial businesses and their ecosystem in order to facilitate their transition to a circular economy. Why? Because eco-industrial parks (EIPs), which use the outputs of one industrial process as inputs for another, have not always been as successful or efficient as they could be. So how does BE CIRCLE work? A consortium of stakeholders including ENGIE, ARX IT, CNR, Ecole Polytechnique, Provadis School of International Management and Technology and the Syndicat Mixte INSPIRA gathered in 2017 to launch a web platform to support industrial ecosystems’ transition towards CE. The service will helps industrial park managers and developers, network operators and industrial actors generate a local industrial fabric and sustainable supply flows, as well as identify partners and solutions to build synergies that match their budgetary and environmental strategy. This shows that if all synergies made possible through the platform are adopted, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by up to 14 per cent! (Source: Climate-KIC)

Silicon recycling

The national commission for nuclear and alternative energy (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives, CEA) is a technology research center and has several offices around France, amongst which in Grenoble. Recently, CEA-Leti developed a new recycling solution for silicon wafers used for research purposes. Such wafers are semi-conductors, essential to make solar panels. CEA-Leti produces 3 tonnes of silicon wafers a year. Normally, after use they are ground up and sent to special underground storage facilities. That was a dangerous, costly, and long process. A new and simple recycling process will give the wafers a second-life in the aluminum industry. This is a win-win solution: CEA-Leti saves time and money on the disposal of the wafers, and the aluminum industry gets a recycled raw material at a low price.

In conclusion, the AURA region is a frontrunner on cleantech, which accelerates its transition to the circular economy. Participating in the Pollutec 2020 fair could be a good starting point for Dutch organisations looking to expand their business to the AURA region and France in general. Other sectors in the region, such as the textiles industry, are advanced and demonstrate readiness for circular solutions.

If you have any questions how to expand from the Netherlands into a French region, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency ( and the Embassy of the Netherlands in France are here for you. Please do not hesitate to contact us.


Sources: European Commission Regional Innovation Monitor, fieldwork by NBSO Lyon, Eco Made in France, Eclaira, OREE, La Gazette de la Défense.