“Hydrogen energy is undeniably a technology of the future. It has sometimes suffered from excessive media coverage, which has led to disappointment for some. But this should not obscure the major role it is set to play in tomorrow’s energy transition.” For Jean-Luc Baraffe, Group Director of Research and Innovation at SEGULA Technologies, there is no doubt about the future of hydrogen energy.
This conviction is based on a number of arguments that are difficult to dispute. First and foremost, of course, is its reduced carbon footprint, particularly when produced from renewable energy sources. Another major advantage is the variety of possible applications for this future fuel (hydrogen shows higher energy densities per kilogram than fossil fuels or battery systems). In addition to the world of transport (cars, HGVs, railways, ships, etc.), hydrogen is also of interest to manufacturers whose need high energy densities and processes produce high levels of greenhouse gas emissions (cement, steel, chemicals, etc.) and gas network specialists where it is difficult to reduce emissions.
Finally, against a backdrop of high international tensions, hydrogen holds real promise of energy independence for countries that do not produce fossil fuels and it will be also very attractive for countries who have a high amount of regenerative energies in their power mix, as it will help to stabilise the power grid and make power even cheaper. Its development is widely supported by European governments and institutions. In July 2022, the European Union (EU) authorised public funding of up to €5.4 billion for hydrogen. This would mobilise an additional €8.8 billion in private funding and generate 20,000 jobs across the EU. A few weeks later, France announced an investment of €2.1 billion to support its national hydrogen industry.
Technological maturity: 2030 in sight
For many experts, the question is not whether hydrogen will become a major alternative energy source, but rather when: “We’re still at the beginning of the story,” says Stephan Wagner, Technical Lead Hydrogen Systems at SEGULA Technologies. There’s still a lot of work to be done to get electrolysers and fuel cells scaled up to meet the needs of a mass market in terms of widespread availability and affordability. But the pace of innovation is set to accelerate over the next five years. We should see significant advancements in many of the technological solutions currently being developed and we will see hydrogen gradually being rolled out “.
In terms of production, great hopes are also being pinned on the extraction of carbon-free hydrogen from methane. As for fuel cells and electrolyser, efforts are focusing on improving the lifespan and lowering the cost of generators, in particular by reducing or even eliminating the use of precious metals.
All the players in the sector want to be ready for the market take-off expected at the end of this decade. “In fact, there are already some initial applications for hydrogen. I’m thinking in particular of mobile transport fleet projects, heavy duty applications as well as the strong acceleration in naval and aviation for the use of hydrogen systems that are starting to appear in Europe and the United States. This type of experimentation is likely to remain modest at first because of the lack of refuelling stations. From 2030 onwards, hydrogen should begin to find its way more widely into the world of heavy goods vehicles, shipping and industry,” says Jean-Luc Baraffe.
As far as private cars are concerned, the experts are less optimistic. The cost of vehicles and the lack of refilling infrastructure are likely to limit the potential of hydrogen for this type of use. For example, there not even thirty hydrogen filling stations open to the public by mid2023 in France. The high-profile inauguration in June 2023 of Europe’s largest hydrogen production and distribution station in Paris (Porte de Saint-Cloud) will not be enough to reverse the trend.
Europe mobilises for hydrogen
Who will come out on top in Europe between now and 2030? Spain and Portugal are often cited as the major hydrogen-producing countries of the future. The Iberian Peninsula has significant potential for renewable energy production. Resources from which its neighbours could benefit. In 2022, the heads of state of France, Spain and Portugal launched the “H2Med” European green hydrogen corridor project. The aim is to create two connections: the first between Portugal and Spain, and the second – via an undersea route – between Barcelona and Marseille.
Of course, France is also taking its place in this new market. With large-scale initiatives such as Electrolyzer Gigafactory project by Elogen in Vendôme, where production is due to start in 2025, or that of the Franco-Belgian group John Cockerill in Aspach-Michelbach, or the initiatives of Renault (in partnership with the Chinese group Geely) or Faurecia (storage system) in the transport sector. Germany is also counting on its industrial know-how to strengthen its energy independence thanks to hydrogen.
“German leaders are in the process of applying the same approach to hydrogen as they did to chemicals or semi-conductors: the creation of – excellence clusters to facilitate the networking of major producer groups, research institutes and the logistics and distribution players. Whereas, the National Hydrogen Strategy interlocks climate, energy, industrial and innovation policies. The aim is to make Germany a global pioneer in green hydrogen and to achieve and secure market leadership in hydrogen technologies in the long term”, says Stephan Wagner. In addition to national initiatives, there is a clear need to mobilise for transport at European level.
Like the European Hydrogen Backbone (EHB), which involves twelve gas transmission system operators (TSOs) from eleven European countries. Their common goal? To develop – by 2040 – a 39,700 km hydrogen transport network linking 21 European countries.
“With SEGULA Technologies, we’ve been working on hydrogen for over ten years. We have seen this fuel gradually attract more and more, major groups and start-ups. We are experiencing a period of effervescence across the entire value chain: production, use and logistics. We want to play our part in this innovative dynamic,” says Jean-Luc Baraffe. For hydrogen, tomorrow is being written today.
SEGULA Technologies and the hydrogen market
For over ten years, SEGULA Technologies has been supporting hydrogen players in the development of their projects.
This mission involves sharing skills, providing in-house technical solutions (hydrogen chain sizing tools, etc.), making testing resources available and supplying specific patents (hydrogen compression systems, fuel cells, electrolyser etc.). SEGULA Technologies’ range of hydrogen energy solutions and services is aimed at large groups and start-ups alike.