Terriflux - boosting the clarity of the biobased economy

Changed on 24/03/2022
Closely linked to the STEEP project team, Terriflux is a new start-up which offers modelling and simulation services for material flows to intermunicipal bodies, institutions and interprofessional associations in sectors such as agriculture and forestry. It was also supported by Inria Startup Studio.
Illustration - grumes de bois
Photo Zuzana Kacerová via Unsplash, CC0

A decision-support tool

The transition towards a low-carbon economy is creating new needs when it comes to accounting, on top of traditional balance sheets. Sectors within the biobased economy (timber, cereals, livestock farming, etc.), which are defined based on a raw material, are now seeking to map the flows of materials used all the way along the value chain, from production through to consumption.

As resources become increasingly scarce, they are also striving to count the flows of materials needed for each type of activity. They deploy decision-support tools, which allow them to anticipate potential competition for uses before choosing to push ahead with a particular line of business.

From geostatistics to flow modelling

It was with these needs in mind that the start-up Terriflux was launched in November 2021 by Julien Alapetite, after spending more than ten years working with the project team STEEP (“Soutenabilité, Transition, Environnement, Économie Biophysique et Politiques Locales”, or “Sustainability, Transition, the Environment, Biophysical Economics and Local Politics”) at the Inria Grenoble – Rhône-Alpes centre.

A qualified geologist and computer engineer, Alapetite spent 20 years working for Paradigm Geo, publisher of the software suite Gocad, focusing in particular on the development of geostatic modelling and uncertainty analysis tools, before returning to the world of academia and the modelling of ecological footprints. His interest in calculating ecological footprints led him to material flows and, as he jokes, “I've never left!”.This also led to him meeting researchers from STEEP, whose work is focused on the systemic modelling and simulation of interactions between environmental, social and economic factors.

Julien Alapetite and Jean-Yves Courtonne, a researcher from this team, were involved in the creation of  AF-Filières, a methodology for analysing biomass flows (wood-forest and agriculture sectors). “This project, which was given scientific support and validation by Ademe (the French agency for the ecological transition), was a big success, and proved that our methodology was operational and useful for the majority of interprofessional associations”, explains Julien Alapetite. “We saw the potential in it, and I wanted to try my hand at entrepreneurship.” 

Support from Inria Startup Studio

The researcher's desire to launch a start-up coincided with Inria creating Startup Studio, a support initiative targeted at deep tech projects (i.e. disruptive innovations). “I applied and found out my application was successful in March 2020”, he explains. “This support, which began in June and lasted for one year, gave me access to funding, hosting and a lot of really useful advice, including when it came to putting together a business plan.” 

While this was going on, the designer negotiated an operating agreement with Inria for the use of tools and methods relating to MFA (Material Flow Analysis) and visualisation in the form of Sankey diagrams (a type of flow diagram in which the width of the arrows is proportional to the flow rate).

The company was launched with six minority shareholders, including Jean-Yves Courtonne, in November 2021. But it had actually began operating in January of the same year, with backing from Inria. “Even before the launch and during the incubation period, I was able to start to deliver and bill for work, most of which involved flow analysis in professional sectors”, explains the founder.

Analysis for interprofessional associations

The services Terriflux provides draw on the tools and methodological framework developed over the past ten years - determining flows, data gathering and reconciliation (data may be inconsistent or incomplete), and representation in the form of diagrams. This can be replicated in a range of sectors, both in France or elsewhere in Europe, and has the potential to generate recurring revenue.

By way of a current example, Terriflux recently conducted analysis on straw resources in the agricultural sector in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. The aim of this was to determine whether or not the resources produced within the region were sufficient to consider moving into straw bale construction.

The start-up also works with intercommunalities, including analysis of regional food strategies and waste management, and has been awarded contracts with a number of regional interprofessional associations in the forestry-timber sector (known as “Fibois”), such as the Pôle Excellence Bois (the Centre of Excellence for Timber) in Savoie.“They were created to monitor regional timber activity as a whole, looking at every link in the processing chain”, explains Julien Alapetite.“So I feel they have a good idea of what Terriflux can give them: the capacity to quantify and visualise flows quickly, presenting a clear overview.” 

Premium software add-ons

Terriflux’s offices are located in close proximity to those of the project team STEEP, with whom they continue to have a close and fruitful relationship. In early 2022, Julien Alapetite and an engineer specially recruited on a fixed-term contract were assigned to participate alongside STEEP in Scalable, a research project funded by Ademe, in partnership with INRAE (the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment). This project should help to inform the discussion surrounding the relocation of different links in chains relating to agricultural biomass.

In order to develop his business further, Julien Alapetite is also keen to offer his clients premium (pay-to-access) software add-ons in the future, on top of the open source software and online services developed jointly with STEEP (AF Filières and OpenSankey). And the start-up has the resources to meet its ambitions. After having been awarded financial support from Bpifrance, it was able to enlist the services of four providers: for communication, development, prospecting and website design. It is also expected to begin recruiting in the very near future. Watch this space...