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Coup d’accélérateur dans l’énergie hydrogène

Accelerating in hydrogen energy

Pioneer in the hydrogen market, Air Liquide is convinced that this molecule has a fundamental role to play in facing the climate challenge. Therefore, the Group is contributing to its development as a source of energy.

This theme was one of the subjects reflected in your questions during the May 7 Annual General Meeting and the regional Shareholders’ meetings which took place afterwards. A brief overview.

Your questions for Pierre-Étienne Franc on hydrogen energy  

Energy transition, mobility, storage, production... Many of you were interested in the numerous uses of hydrogen energy and the role that it can play in the energy transition, in particular during the 2019 Annual General Meeting. To help you understand, we have compiled your questions and put them to Pierre-Étienne Franc, Vice President of Hydrogen Energy at Air Liquide. Here are his detailed explanations.

Pierre-Étienne Franc, Vice Président Hydrogène Énergie chez Air Liquide
Pierre-Étienne Franc, Vice President of Hydrogen Energy at Air Liquide

How is hydrogen produced?

There are several ways to produce hydrogen. The most common way, mainly used for industrial purposes, for which currently represents more than 90% of global production, is by reforming the natural gas. This method emits CO2, although it is important to note that solutions exist to capture and use these emissions for other applications. In Port-Jérôme in Normandie for example, the CryocapTM facility captures 100,000 tons of CO2 each year. 

But Air Liquide’s aim is to transition to the production of low-carbon hydrogen. There are several solutions available to reach this objective. We are investing for example in the production of hydrogen through water electrolysis, which generates no emissions. Although the electricity required for the electrolysis comes from a renewable energy source, such as solar energy or wind turbines, the production itself is entirely carbon-free. This is the case of Bécancour, in Quebec, which will produce eight tons of carbon-free hydrogen per day using renewable energies. 

Other solutions, such as the production of hydrogen from biomethane, encourage a circular economy based on the transformation of household or agricultural waste, for example.

Hydrogen: from production to use

What are Air Liquide’s commitments in terms of the production of carbon-free hydrogen?

Deeply convinced that hydrogen will play a major role in the energy transition, the Group intends to be a key enabler of the hydrogen society and announced that approximately 8 billion euros will be invested in the low-carbon hydrogen supply chain by 2035. This translates, on a daily basis, into concrete action, with the construction of sites such as HyBalance in Denmark or the PEM electrolyzer in Becancour, Canada. These units produce hydrogen through water electrolysis using electricity entirely sourced from renewable energies.

We have even gone a step further: through the Hydrogen Council, all global hydrogen operators have committed to ensure that by 2030 all hydrogen used for mobility will come from low-carbon production if all conditions (in particular regulatory ones) allow for this.

Is hydrogen dangerous?

Hydrogen is a gas which can be used to produce energy. And, as is the case for all sources of energy, there is no such thing as zero risk. This is why it is important to follow strict rules to ensure the highest level of safety possible. Hydrogen charging stations accessible to the general public, for example, are equipped with state-of-the-art technology to ensure that they operate safely at all times.

For Air Liquide, which has been handling hydrogen for more than 50 years, the question of safety is non-negotiable: it is a priority. We have, of course, put in place all the necessary protection systems to produce, store, transport and use this gas under optimal conditions. But we also have a duty to share this safety culture with as many people as possible. It is for this reason that we have formed partnerships and contribute to regulatory groups to share our industrial expertise and allow the general public to safely take advantage of the numerous benefits of this source of energy.

“Hydrogen will be the key driver for a successful energy transition.”

How is the growth of hydrogen charging stations structured?

We have noticed that the most promising regions are those where the most invested manufacturers are located. This is the case in Japan, a particularly fast-growing market which is home to Toyota (which is building the Mirai) and Honda (the manufacturer of the Clarity). In South Korea, the home of Hyundai and the Nexo, the network is also growing rapidly. In addition, we have seen that regions which have adopted an incentive-based approach also favor the hydrogen charging station network. This is the case in California, but also in Germany, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which have all taken measures to either limit or prohibit internal combustion vehicles. These measures encourage the development of the infrastructure and allow these countries to position themselves as the future leaders in clean mobility.

Beyond mobility, what other future uses are possible for hydrogen energy?

The mobility sector is not the only scope of application for hydrogen energy. It is a vital trigger that needs to be successful to launch the energy transition. Hydrogen energy allows for the long-term storage of energy – unlike batteries. This storage is a key factor in the quest for a cleaner future, as it will allow us to increase the share of renewable energies, which are intermittent in nature, in the energy mix. 

But that is not all! The electrification of industry, domestic heating, digitization-related energy needs and more. The list of uses for this molecule is long and vast: hence the reference to a systemic solution. 

What is the growth outlook for the hydrogen market?

Hydrogen mobility is a rapidly growing market, which brings together environmental benefits and those of a new economy. But as Bertrand Piccard, Initiator and Chairman of Solar Impulse, puts it, “sustainable development innovation only makes sense if there is a market for it. We need this combination of ecology and the economy.

Hydrogen is a step towards this. A report published by consulting firm McKinsey envision by 2050 a market for hydrogen and hydrogen technologies with revenues of more than $2.5 trillion per year. This gas will represent around 18% of global energy demand, will help reduce CO2 emissions by around 6 gigatons and will create 30 million jobs.

For Air Liquide, hydrogen is a huge challenge in terms of commercial development. If Air Liquide manages to control just 1% of what this market will represent by 2050, we will double our current revenue.

We must not forget either that transport is not just private cars. It also includes a wide range of uses such as buses, utility vehicles and trucks, the shipping sector which includes maritime freight, and even air travel: the hydrogen-fueled electric plane was one of the highlights of the recent Paris Air Show at Le Bourget. Guillaume Faury, the Chairman and CEO of Airbus, has even said that hydrogen is at the heart of his vision for the aircraft of the future.

Hydrogen energy: a solution for clean mobility

Destination: hydrogen

Hydrogen has amazing potential for helping society tackle the energy transition challenge by including renewable sources in the energy mix and decarbonizing the end uses of fossil fuels.

Pioneering companies have already moved to hydrogen. This major energy shift has begun across all areas of transport and energy production in which hydrogen is a simple, clean and efficient solution. 

Article published on July 29, 2019

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