Hydrogen, the sprint (and obstacle) race is on

It’s a new world in which electricity is transformed into hydrogen and then into “e-molecules”, such as “e-ammonia” or “e-methanol” – the suffix “e-” meaning that electricity was used to make them. It’s not yet a full-scale reality and it’s not quite science fiction anymore. In any case, energy companies are investing with a vengeance and displaying great ambitions, like Engie, which inaugurated, on Thursday, November 3, its research laboratory devoted to renewable hydrogen, known as “green”, located in Stains, in the suburbs of Paris.

Hundreds of projects

“We are already well positioned in gas and electricity, two worlds which are bound to come together around hydrogen”, says its general manager Catherine MacGregor. By 2030, the group intends to reach 4 GW of green hydrogen production capacity (including 3 GW outside Europe), 1 TWh in terms of storage, and wants to commission 700 km of dedicated networks and more. one hundred charging stations.

“We have more than 100 projects in sight, some already very advanced, and the files that are coming in are bigger and bigger, beyond 100 MW»emphasizes Sébastien Arbola, Deputy Managing Director.

Produce ammonia

In Australia, Engie has just started the construction of an electrolyzer, associated with a photovoltaic park intended to produce green hydrogen for an Australian ammonia plant, belonging to the Norwegian fertilizer manufacturer Yara. A world first on this scale, assures the group. It is counting on a production of 640 tonnes per year of green hydrogen from 2025.

Part of this “green ammonia” will be exported to Asia. Good news for the climate. “World ammonia production alone accounts for 2% of greenhouse gas emissions”underlines Philippe Olivier, the director of the new Engie laboratory.

Decarbonizing industry and heavy mobility

It is therefore a real speed race that is engaged. Subsidies are beginning to pour in to build large electrolyser manufacturing units, these machines which make it possible to recover hydrogen molecules thanks to an electric current passed through water. Over the entire hydrogen sector, ten projects have already been selected in France and will benefit from 2.1 billion in public support.

Electricity will not be able to meet all uses, in industry and heavy mobility in particular, and we will still need gasanalyzes Claire Waysand, the general secretary of Engie. It’s up to us to decarbonize it, by offering biomethane and green hydrogen. »

The United States accelerates with a tax credit system

But there are still many obstacles. Green hydrogen still costs twice as much as gray hydrogen, produced from natural gas. The development of the sector should make it possible to lower costs, but no one really knows at what rate.

The players are also relying heavily on the expected drop in the price of electricity from renewable sources, which represents half the price of green hydrogen. “We need subsidies, but also a flexible regulatory framework”says Claire Waysand.

However, in Europe, the hydrogen directive is slow to see the light of day, because of the divisions between Europeans. “Europe was ahead on the subject, it risks being late, when we see in particular what is happening in the United States, with the Biden plan which offers effective and simple tax credits for all those who invest in green hydrogen »judges the director general of Engie.

Europe could import half of its consumption

The Commission forecasts a production of 10 million tonnes of green hydrogen in 2030 in Europe. “This requires having approximately 125 GW of electrolysers. But for now, we are only at 3.5 GW”, recalls Philippe Boucly, the president of France Hydrogène. The Commission is counting on 10 million tonnes of green hydrogen imported, in particular from African or Middle Eastern countries where photovoltaic electricity is inexpensive.

In addition to the risk of creating new problems of dependency, it will also be necessary to bring in this hydrogen, by transforming it into ammonia or ethanol, which are more easily transportable. But the economic model still needs to be found.


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