The “green” hydrogen – produced from renewable energies rather than fossil fuels, is becoming the leading alternative energy source. Today, out of approximately 120 million tons of hydrogen produced per year, sustainable hydrogen represents less than 1%.
On September 9, 2020, Barbara Pompili, Minister of Ecological Transition, and Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy, presented the national strategy for the development of low-carbon hydrogen in France. The goal of this national low-carbon strategy for the industry: 53 million tons emitted per year in 2030, compared to 80 million tons emitted per year today. Unlike carbon-based hydrogen, which generates around 9 million tons of CO2 per year, so-called “decarbonized” hydrogen is produced and used without emitting CO2. Its use targets heavy mobility, in particular collective transport of people and the transport of goods.
Decarbonated hydrogen is a priority area of investment for France, given the environmental challenges, the economic challenges (the creation of an industrial sector and an ecosystem that creates employment), the challenges of energy sovereignty and technological independence. The government has already provided financial support to the sector, for a national strategy of 7 billion euros aimed at accelerating the ecological transition and creating a dedicated industrial sector; the priorities of this strategy are to decarbonize the industry by creating a French electrolysis sector, to develop heavy mobility with decarbonized hydrogen, and to support research, innovation, and the development of competencies in order to promote the uses of tomorrow.
At the European level, decarbonated hydrogen is a key technology for achieving climate objectives and creating industrial jobs, maintaining a competitive advantage on a global scale and outpacing American and Asian industries in the long term. Numerous calls for projects have already taken place since 2020.
The European Commission has also created the Clean Hydrogen Alliance, which will organize and coordinate the work of industry and member states on this issue. Some of them have already outlined their hydrogen strategy, such as Germany and Portugal. Others are planning to do so soon. The construction of an Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) will allow the joint financing of the creation of a hydrogen value chain on a European level.
Faced with an “exponential” demand for green hydrogen in France, companies are investing in this technology, like Lhyfe, which has installed an electrolyser and wind turbines in Bouin, in the Vendée region, to supply a multi-energy station with ecological fuel to fill up various types of vehicles from the city of La Roche-sur-Yon. To meet the ever-increasing demand, other production sites will be set up elsewhere in France and Europe this year, says Matthieu Guesné, the company’s founder.
Another startup, GEN-HY, has a manufacturing unit for AEM (Anion Exchange Membrane) membranes to produce competitive green hydrogen. This unit located in Orly (94) is a first in France. It will improve water electrolysis yields by 20%, with the promise of lower production costs.
Orly is the first French unit to produce its own AEM membrane, the third in Europe and the seventh in the world. The site is expected to generate sales of €6 million by the second quarter of 2022.
Other innovations in hydrogen production are emerging in France; in the forests of the Jura, the Corbat Group has developed a pioneering process to produce hydrogen from the bark of hardwood trees, thereby enhancing the value of wood from the region’s forests. Or Athena Recherche et Innovation, a young company from Maine-et-Loire, has developed an innovative process to recover biochar and hydrogen from waste and effluents from the food industry that has attracted the attention of energy giants, all in a circular economy approach.
On October 12, the France 2030 investment plan was presented by the President of the Republic with the objective of making France the leader in green hydrogen. He met with the teams of Genvia, a company that is actively involved in the development of this industry and embodies the ambition of the France 2030 plan.
Other energy companies are aiming to produce and market green hydrogen at the same price as that produced from fossil fuels. Thirty European energy companies have joined their research to promote green hydrogen at competitive prices and have created the “HyDeal Ambition” alliance. Thierry Lepercq, spokesman for the consortium and head of Soladvent states that “HyDeal will be three times faster to set up than a third-generation reactor (EPR) and will generate ten times more energy”.
Two other major companies, Total and Engie, have signed a cooperation agreement to design, develop, build and operate the Masshylia project, the largest green hydrogen production site based on 100% renewable electricity in France, at Châteauneuf-les-Martigues, in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. This initiative will avoid 15,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year. The project has many strong points, such as the implementation of 5 innovations that prefigure solutions for decarbonization of the industry, or better industrial safety thanks to the use of 3D digital models for all components of the installation. Total and Engie are aiming for construction to begin in 2022, with production scheduled for 2024.