Green Light for New French Printworks

The Banque de France (BdF) has announced that the construction of a new banknote printworks on the same site as its paper mill in Vic-le-Comte (Europafi) is going ahead, and will be completed in 2026 at a cost of €220 million.

The stated objectives of the programme are threefold.

First is to continue the sovereign activity of banknote production in France (as compared with several other eurozone countries, which have given up on it).

Second is to develop an industrial tool aligned with the national climate and energy objectives, amplified by the crisis in Ukraine.

And third is to improve the working conditions and competitiveness of existing banknote printing against a background of increasing public and private competition.

BdF is the only central bank in the eurozone with its own printworks and papermill. It is the largest manufacturer of euro banknotes, having produced a total of almost 24 billion since the currency was launched in 2002, or 22.5% of the total volume produced to date.

It is also a key player on the international banknote market, with more than half of paper and print production used for currencies other than the euro to some 20 countries around the world, predominantly in francophone Africa.

According to BdF, the new facilities will optimise production thanks to the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment. It will also be more economical and will reduce the environmental footprint by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.

It is understood that some of the equipment in at the current 100-year old site in Chamalières will be transferred to the new facility, around 30km away, and a new line will also be purchased and installed, giving the printworks a capacity of c. 2.4 billion banknotes.

The investment follows a major upgrade to Europafi, which was spun out from the BdF as a separate legal entity in 2015 and in which the central banks of Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Austria also have a (minority) stake.

Over the course of the next two years, it underwent an extension modernisation programme, involving the construction of a new building and vaults, the refurbishment of workshops and the installation of new equipment, including a new cross-cutter, a new mould cover automated machine and a new three format M3F paper machine, supplied by Allimand, which went into operation in late 2017. The total cost was €75 million, and capacity was doubled to 5,000 tonnes per year.

The new printworks project has been on the drawing board since 2015 or so, and construction was originally scheduled to go ahead in 2020, for completion in 2023, but a number of factors results in a delay, not least the pandemic. Once complete, says BdF, France will have ‘the most modern, efficient, and environmentally sustainable public banknote production centre in Europe.’ The modernisation and expansion of both paper production and print is part of a broader strategy by the BdF to transform its cash activities.

Other initiatives include the construction of two fully automated cash management centres, the creation of CHTO schemes (auxiliary coin depositories), the dematerialisation and standardisation of data exchanges (Interop, GS1), the optimisation of logistics and the adoption of more environmentally friendly packaging solutions.