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[Report] Hydrogen and mobility

or how to meet the challenges of clean transportation?

Will hydrogen drive us all in the future? This gas, in any case, is set to become one of the cornerstones of the energy transition. With the European Union presenting a plan last July to develop this energy solution as part of the economic recovery and France announcing its own 7 billion euro plan in September to create an industrial hydrogen sector, let’s take another look at hydrogen’s potential to decarbonize the mobility sector as part of this second article on the subject.

Hydrogen energy is one solution to the clean mobility challenge, to power cars, buses and trucks, as well as trains, boats and even planes.
According to a report by McKinsey for the Hydrogen Council, at the global level hydrogen-powered vehicles could represent:

  • 3% of new light vehicle sales by 2030 and up to 35% by 2050
  • 500,000 trucks on the road by 2030
  • 30% of bus traffic by 2050.

A reliable alternative to combustion engines

With a charging time of less than five minutes and a range in excess of 500 km, hydrogen-powered cars are an efficient alternative to combustion engine vehicles in the fight against CO2 emissions in the transportation sector. 

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are electric vehicles equipped with a fuel cell which transforms hydrogen into electricity. The result: zero CO2 emitted, zero particulates and zero noise; these vehicles only emit water.

Discover how these new generation vehicles and their fuel cells work

Air Liquide is contributing to making the use of hydrogen in the transportation sector more widespread by supporting, in particular, the global roll-out of the necessary charging stations. This roll-out applies to private light vehicles (notably in Germany, California and Japan), as well as to vehicle fleets (like the Hype taxis in Paris), public transport and even trucks, with the announcement in July this year of the construction of the first high-pressure hydrogen refueling station in Europe which will supply a fleet of hydrogen-powered long-haul trucks.

A zero emissions boat

A hydrogen-powered boat? This already exists. The first of its kind is called the Energy Observer and is currently on a tour of the world. This floating laboratory is an ambassador for the shipping sector’s energy transition. Drawing energy from nature, without waste, is the vision for the future shaped by this hydrogen and renewable energy-powered catamaran. 

Air Liquide has been committed for over 20 years to the development of hydrogen energy, in particular for mobility, and supports this scientific and technological project which showcases hydrogen’s role in the energy transition.
In the short term, not all boats will be able to sail using hydrogen. However, there are a growing number of examples of its use and several projects are also working on an energy mix combining hydrogen, liquefied natural gas and electricity.

Hydrogen to replace kerosene, as of 2035

Although the aerospace sector only represents 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, a far cry from road haulage, it is also beginning its transition to cleaner technologies. Airlines and aircraft manufacturers are committed to halving their CO2 emissions by 2050, and the support packages provided to the aerospace sector, which has been hit hard by the public health crisis, are contingent on this element. 

Flying the first hydrogen-powered plane as of 2035. Fact or fiction?

Climb onboard with Bertrand Piccard, who flew around the world in 2016 in the Solar Impulse plane, which was powered by solar energy alone. An opportunity to discuss the future and promises of hydrogen in air transport (in French only).

Other hydrogen-powered vehicles…

Let’s not stop at cars, planes or boats! Several other kinds of vehicles are already powered by hydrogen.

  • Ariane 5 launch vehicule

    Since the very start of the space industry, hydrogen has played a major role as rocket fuel.
    This is the fuel with the highest concentration of energy: 1 kg of hydrogen has three times more energy than 1 kg of gasoline.
    The main stage of the Ariane 5 launch vehicle is currently equipped with a cryogenic propulsion system. At each launch, this system operates for about 10 minutes and uses 220 tons of liquid propellants(hydrogen and oxygen). Air Liquide has supported the development of launch vehicles for fifty years, from Ariane 1 through to Ariane 5, and was part of the Ariane European program from the start, contributing its cutting-edge expertise in the management of gases and cryogenics for space.

    Find out more

  • Train

    This train can travel up to 1,000 kilometers on a full tank and reach speeds of 140 km/hour. Alstom will manufacture 14 of these fuel cell trains for the Lower Saxony local transport authorities, which will replace their diesel locomotives. They will carry passengers between Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervörde and Buxtehude as of December 2021.

    Find out more in this video (in French only)

  • Bus

    South Korea plans to develop a new hydrogen-centered economy including a network of buses, the first of which was placed in circulation at the end of 2018 in the city of Ulsan. An additional 1,000 buses will be in service by 2022 in several of the country’s town and cities.
    Thirteen companies, including Hyundai and Air Liquide, have also founded a company—HyNet—with a view to creating 100 dedicated stations before the end of 2022.

  • Bike

    Invented by the Frenchman Pierre Forté and manufactured by Pragma Industries, this electric bike is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, has a range of 100 km and can be charged in less than a minute! Its name is Alpha.

Over to you!

After having read and listened to this report, can you answer the following four questions regarding hydrogen?

How many hydrogen charging stations has Air Liquide designed and installed to date?

To date, Air Liquide has already designed and installed more than 120 hydrogen charging stations worldwide.

How much would the hydrogen market be worth if 1% of the current global fleet of vehicles converted to hydrogen?

If 1% of the current global fleet of vehicles converted to hydrogen, this would represent a market valued at 15 billion euros.

True or False? Hydrogen is less efficient than other energy sources.


This statement is based on a comparison of the performance of hydrogen-powered electric vehicles, via renewable electricity electrolysis (Well-to-Wheel efficiency of around 35%), and electric battery (efficiency of 50-60%). The statement is true if the entire chain is based on renewable electricity, but false based on the current energy mix where the electricity used in batteries is produced by gas power plants, and the hydrogen extracted from natural gas with the capture and storage of CO2. Efficiency in the latter case is therefore similar (around 40% for each method). Moreover, this analysis does not take into account the additional benefits of hydrogen, in particular in terms of storage of renewable energies and usages for industry and consumers.

Interested in learning more? Read the article entitled Battery vs hydrogen: 3 scenarios for electric vehicles (in French only)

How long has the Energy Observer been sailing around the world?

The Energy Observer project was born in 2013 from the commitment of Victorien Erussard, a master mariner, who teamed up with explorer Jérôme Delafosse in 2016. They are supported by a team of skippers, professional sailors, engineers and reporters dedicated to the challenge of creating the first self-sufficient boat capable of drawing its energy from nature in an environmentally friendly manner. The Energy Observer is a laboratory for the ecological transition designed to push the limits of zero-emission technologies. Hydrogen, solar, wind and water power. All solutions are experimented with on board, tested and optimized to make clean energy sources a practical reality, accessible to all. It was launched from Saint-Malo in April 2017.

Discover its Odyssey

Article published on October 22, 2020