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Air Liquide Normand’Hy: boosting an industrial region through mass renewable hydrogen production

Published on February 01, 2022

Port-Jérôme and the Seine estuary. This industrial hub in the Seine-Maritime department (France) has fully embraced the energy transition. Numerous initiatives are springing up and the brand-new Air Liquide Normand’Hy project is part of this movement. Major changes are afoot, with the commissioning, from 2025, of a PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) electrolyzer with a minimum capacity of 200 megawatts. The ultimate ambition is to create the first low-carbon hydrogen network in the world. Find out more!

When you arrive in Port-Jérôme-sur-Seine, the Air Liquide hydrogen production unit is not hard to spot, sitting close by the major refiners present in this important French and European industrial area. But firstly, what is hydrogen used for in the refinery sector? To desulfurize – in other words to reduce the sulfur content of hydrocarbons – a vital process. With the climate challenges we are facing today, the supply of carbon-intensive hydrogen needs to be gradually replaced with renewable and low-carbon hydrogen capable of reducing manufacturers’ carbon footprint. "We are very much in favor of this type of project," explains Erwan Keromest, Director of the TotalEnergies platform in Normandy. "At our site, we aim to reduce CO2 emissions by 30% to 40% by 2030. Renewable and low-carbon hydrogen will allow us to eliminate carbon from a number of our processes."

"Scaling up" is the key to the energy transition for all manufacturers. "From the moment Air Liquide became involved in this project, we thought ‘bingo’," recalls Virginie Carolo-Lutrot, President of the Caux Seine Agglo local urban authority, with characteristic passion. "When a prime contractor of this size joins this type of project, which aims to secure the industrial future of the site as well as to develop new sectors, and which has focused its latest investments on creating a virtuous circle, it indicates a good level of political maturit." In fact, Air Liquide Normand’Hy will very quickly establish itself as "a major asset in decarbonizing Normandy’s industrial heartland," according to François Jackow, Executive Vice President and member of the Executive Committee of the Air Liquide group. The secret lies in the now-recognized expertise of Air Liquide’s researchers, engineers and technicians in the development and operation of PEM electrolyzers. The goal is both ambitious and very clear: to create the first low-carbon hydrogen network in the world, capable of supplying all industrial customers in Normandy, as well as hydrogen fuel stations for transport, primarily trucks.

Large-scale production for large-scale decarbonization

A PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) electrolyzer uses well-known technology, which basically involves separating the water molecule (H2O) using electricity generated from a renewable source. This separation of the water molecule releases the hydrogen molecule.

Producing a large quantity at an acceptable cost is not so easy, however. But this is the feat that has been achieved by Air Liquide in Canada, with the largest PEM electrolyzer in operation in the world, at 20 megawatts, inaugurated in January 2021. And the capacity of the future project in Normandy will be more than 200 megawatts – enough to meet the very significant needs of refiner customers. As Virginie Carolo-Lutrot rightly points out, "The decarbonization of industry necessarily requires mass production of low-carbon hydrogen."

Now let’s turn to carbon emissions. With this project, from 2025 Air Liquide Normand’Hy will avoid 250,000 tons of annual CO2 emissions. This certainly represents a real change of scale and will radically transform the region.

The Normand'hy project has been pre-notified to the European Union by the French authorities as part of the call for IPCEIs (Important Projects of Common European Interest) in the hydrogen sector.

Supplying renewable hydrogen to heavy transport operators

Reducing the carbon footprint of an industrial region also involves reducing the carbon emissions of the vehicles that pass through it – especially trucks. The low-carbon hydrogen produced by Air Liquide Normand’Hy will be distributed to charging stations where heavy vehicles will come to refuel. It is probably unnecessary to recall that driving a hydrogen vehicle emits no CO2 emissions or fine particulate matter. Using renewable hydrogen supplied by Air Liquide Normand’Hy also means that emissions are reduced at source. It is easy to see why the heavy vehicles used in Port-Jérôme in Normandy will have very little in common with those in use today…

Regions set their sights on renewable, low-carbon hydrogen

"The employees who work here, for refiners or petrochemical companies, are firstly citizens," emphasises Erwan Keromest. "Our employees are very aware of the issue of decarbonization and they support everything we are doing to reduce carbon emissions. Young employees in particular are increasingly aware. They are joining companies like TotalEnergies to contribute to this change." In fact, a minor revolution is under way in the Seine estuary. "What I observe," says Erwan Keromest, "is that the other industrial companies which gravitate around our large groups are also very interested in this initiative and would like to join the project. All industrial companies from Rouen to Le Havre want to reduce the Seine valley’s carbon footprint." Virginie Carolo-Lutrot agrees. "This project is a foundation on which to build the future," she says. The local authority leader takes a far-sighted view and sees the industrial companies present in her region from a global perspective, encompassing information about the activities at the Port-Jérôme site, school and university education, vocational training, housing, social amenities (nurseries, etc.). Carbon-free industry can really develop the attractiveness of a region – which Air Liquide is contributing to.

Focus on the national strategy for the development of carbon-free hydrogen in France

This Hydrogen Plan, launched in 2020 and allocated more than €7 bn in funding, focuses particularly on the decarbonization of industry through the creation of a French electrolysis sector and the development of heavy mobility using carbon-free hydrogen. It aims to avoid the emission of 6 million tons of CO2 by 2030 and, in the longer term, to reduce industrial emissions by 81% by 2050 compared with 2015.