The French industrial gas giant Air Liquide is making hydrogen its next core business. It has just created an R&D partnership relating to hydrogen-powered transport with the Portuguese firm CaetanoBus and the European subsidiary of Toyota Motors. The American subsidiary of Air Liquide, Airgas, acquired by the group in 2015, is not to be outdone. It has just signed a partnership with Hyzon Motors to test two trucks running on this fuel.
Hydrogen is not only an energy resource that exists freely in nature; it is an energy vector. In the world today, for economic reasons, almost all hydrogen is extracted from fossil fuels, which are heated to very high temperatures. However, hydrogen can also be obtained from water, by electrolysis. The carbon balance of the hydrogen produced with water then depends on the source of energy required for its extraction.
Hydrogen could therefore play a major role in achieving carbon neutrality, provided that its production is decarbonized. It has the advantage of being able to store the energy produced by renewable sources, the production of which is much less linear than electricity from fossil fuels.
The hydrogen sector is developing in Europe, driven by the “Green Deal”, as well as by national plans of action, such as in Germany. Thanks to the commitment shown from businesses, such as Air Liquide, Symbio (a jointly owned subsidiary of Faurecia and Michelin) and Genvia, France aims to become a leader in carbon-free hydrogen.
State investment in this sector has increased from €100 million in 2018 to more than €7 billion, through two major plans, namely “Relaunch France” in 2020 and “France 2030” in 2021. The aim is to produce 6.5 GW by electrolyzers, which will save six million tonnes of CO2 by 2030 and create 100,000 jobs in France, according to France Hydrogène.
France has a state-of-the-art industrial base, which will include at least two gigafactories by 2030, as well as startups, such as Elogen (ex-AREVA H2Gen) and Lhyfe. Founded in Nantes in 2017, Lhyfe chose the Vendée département (Pays de la Loire region) to create the world’s first site for the production of hydrogen from wind power on an industrial scale, with a seawater reserve for electrolysis.
Lhyfe has also entered into an agreement with the American manufacturer Plug Power to develop decarbonized hydrogen production facilities throughout Europe. Lhyfe is carrying out many innovative projects, in partnership with several European businesses, such as the Swedish group wpd and the German firm Enerparc AG. It is also in the process of planning an initial public offering (IPO) on the Euronext stock exchange in Paris, after raising €10 million in April 2022 from the Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co.