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Accelerating in Hydrogen Energy

Air Liquide hydrogen car fill-up station

Pioneer in the hydrogen market, Air Liquide is convinced that this molecule has a fundamental role to play in facing the climate challenge. Therefore, the Group is contributing to its development as a source of energy.

Your questions for:
Pierre-Étienne Franc on hydrogen energy

Energy transition, mobility, storage, production... Many of you were interested in the numerous uses of hydrogen energy and the role that it can play in the energy transition, in particular during the 2019 Annual General Meeting. To help you understand, we have compiled your questions and put them to Pierre-Étienne Franc, Vice President of Hydrogen Energy at Air Liquide. Here are his detailed explanations.

How is hydrogen produced?

There are several ways to produce hydrogen. The most common way, mainly used for industrial purposes, for which currently represents more than 90% of global production, is by reforming the natural gas. This method emits CO₂, although it is important to note that solutions exist to capture and use these emissions for other applications. In Port-Jérôme in Normandie for example, the Cryocap™ facility captures 100,000 tons of CO₂ each year.

But Air Liquide’s aim is to transition to the production of low-carbon hydrogen. There are several solutions available to reach this objective. We are investing for example in the production of hydrogen through water electrolysis, which generates no emissions. Although the electricity required for the electrolysis comes from a renewable energy source, such as solar energy or wind turbines, the production itself is entirely carbon-free. This is the case of Bécancour, in Quebec, which will produce eight tons of carbon-free hydrogen per day using renewable energies.

Other solutions, such as the production of hydrogen from biomethane, encourage a circular economy based on the transformation of household or agricultural waste, for example.

Other solutions, such as the production of hydrogen from biomethane, encourage a circular economy based on the transformation of household or agricultural waste, for example.

What are Air Liquide’s commitments in terms of the production of carbon-free hydrogen?

Air Liquide launched its Blue Hydrogen initiative several years ago. This initiative pledges to produce at least 50% of the hydrogen dedicated to energy applications through carbon-free processes by 2020. This translates, on a daily basis, into concrete action, with the construction of sites such as HyBalance in Denmark. This unit produces hydrogen through water electrolysis or electricity entirely sourced from wind turbines.

We have even gone a step further: through the Hydrogen Council, all global hydrogen operators have committed to ensure that by 2030 all hydrogen used for mobility will come from low-carbon production if all conditions (in particular regulatory ones) allow for this.

Is hydrogen dangerous?

Hydrogen is a gas which can be used to produce energy. And, as is the case for all sources of energy, there is no such thing as zero risk. This is why it is important to follow strict rules to ensure the highest level of safety possible. Hydrogen charging stations accessible to the general public, for example, are equipped with state-of-the-art technology to ensure that they operate safely at all times.

For Air Liquide, which has been handling hydrogen for more than 50 years, the question of safety is non-negotiable: it is a priority. We have, of course, put in place all the necessary protection systems to produce, store, transport and use this gas under optimal conditions. But we also have a duty to share this safety culture with as many people as possible. It is for this reason that we have formed partnerships and contribute to regulatory groups to share our industrial expertise and allow the general public to safely take advantage of the numerous benefits of this source of energy.

“Hydrogen will be the key driver for a successful energy transition.”

How is the growth of hydrogen charging stations structured?

We have noticed that the most promising regions are those where the most invested manufacturers are located. This is the case in Japan, a particularly fast-growing market which is home to Toyota (which is building the Mirai) and Honda (the manufacturer of the Clarity). In South Korea, the home of Hyundai and the Nexo, the network is also growing rapidly. In addition, we have seen that regions which have adopted an incentive-based approach also favor the hydrogen charging station network. This is the case in California, but also in Germany, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which have all taken measures to either limit or prohibit internal combustion vehicles. These measures encourage the development of the infrastructure and allow these countries to position themselves as the future leaders in clean mobility.

Beyond mobility, what other future uses are possible for hydrogen energy?

The mobility sector is not the only scope of application for hydrogen energy. It is a vital trigger that needs to be successful to launch the energy transition. Hydrogen energy allows for the long-term storage of energy – unlike batteries. This storage is a key factor in the quest for a cleaner future, as it will allow us to increase the share of renewable energies, which are intermittent in nature, in the energy mix.

But that is not all! The electrification of industry, domestic heating, digitization-related energy needs and more. The list of uses for this molecule is long and vast: hence the reference to a systemic solution.

What is the growth outlook for the hydrogen market?

Hydrogen mobility is a rapidly growing market, which brings together environmental benefits and those of a new economy. But as Bertrand Piccard, Initiator and Chairman of Solar Impulse, puts it, “sustainable development innovation only makes sense if there is a market for it. We need this combination of ecology and the economy.”

Hydrogen is a step towards this. A report published by consulting firm McKinsey envision by 2050 a market for hydrogen and hydrogen technologies with revenues of more than $2.5 trillion per year. This gas will represent around 18% of global energy demand, will help reduce CO₂ emissions by around 6 gigatons and will create 30 million jobs.

For Air Liquide, hydrogen is a huge challenge in terms of commercial development. If Air Liquide manages to control just 1% of what this market will represent by 2050, we will double our current revenue.

We must not forget either that transport is not just private cars. It also includes a wide range of uses such as buses, utility vehicles and trucks, the shipping sector which includes maritime freight, and even air travel: the hydrogen-fueled electric plane was one of the highlights of the recent Paris Air Show at Le Bourget. Guillaume Faury, the Chairman and CEO of Airbus, has even said that hydrogen is at the heart of his vision for the aircraft of the future.

Destination: hydrogen
Hydrogen has amazing potential for helping society tackle the energy transition challenge by including renewable sources in the energy mix and decarbonizing the end uses of fossil fuels.
Pioneering companies have already moved to hydrogen. This major energy shift has begun across all areas of transport and energy production in which hydrogen is a simple, clean and efficient solution. 

Discover More.

Air Liquide China

In China

Air Liquide has created a joint venture with Chinese company Houpu to develop the country’s hydrogen distribution infrastructure.

This collaboration will combine Air Liquide's global technological expertise in clean hydrogen mobility solutions with Houpu's leadership in the production and construction of natural gas refilling stations on the Chinese market. 

Thanks to this unique combination of know-how, Air Liquide and Houpu will be able to provide their customers with state-of-the-art hydrogen solutions and address fast-growing demand for environmentally friendly solutions on the Chinese market.

Air Liquide Canada

In Canada

The Group started the construction of a carbon-free hydrogen production unit located in Becancour, Quebec. 

The goal: supply the Canadian and U.S. industry as well as the rapidly growing local hydrogen-mobility market. This new production unit, the largest Proton-Exchange Membrane electrolyzer in the world, will significantly reduce carbon intensity, compared to the traditional hydrogen production process. Emissions of nearly 27,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, equivalent to those of about 10,000 sedan cars per year, will then be prevented.

Air Liquide France

In France

The Group partnered with Idex, specialized in energy efficiency services, Société du Taxi Électrique Parisien (STEP) and Toyota to create HysetCo and support the launch of a fleet of 600 hydrogen taxis by the end of 2020 in the Paris region.

This collaboration represents a major landmark in the emergence of a hydrogen-based society in France and in the development of Hype. Launched in 2015 by STEP and Air Liquide during the COP21, Hype is the world's first fleet of zero-emission hydrogen-powered taxis. There are already 100 hydrogen taxis in the streets of Paris and throughout the Île-de-France region and the goal is to reach the objective of 600 taxis by the end of 2020.

Through this project, the partners are giving a concrete form to their commitment to clean mobility and the improvement of air quality, as well as illustrating that hydrogen mobility is a suitable solution for intensive applications like passenger transportation. The organization’s mission is to promote the sector's transition towards zero emissions, with an objective of "zero emissions for taxis/VTCs by the 2024 Paris Olympic Games".


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