France to invest millions in hydrogen energy production

French Enviroment Minister Nicolas Hulot
French Enviroment Minister Nicolas Hulot REUTERS/Charles Platiau

France has launched an ambitious plan to develop hydrogen for use in industry and transport, with Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot pledging to invest 100 million euros in 2019 to get the gaseous ball rolling.


Hulot presented his plan to industry representatives on Friday, promising to invest 100 million euros next year to help make France a "world leader" in the field.

"The aim is to have projects making rapid progress and over time to invest 100 million euros every year," the minister said.

The government does not want France to be left behind by other countries in the development of a new energy source, as it was with solar and wind power.

The plan aims to have 5,200 hydrogen-powered vehicles, mainly commercial and heavy goods vehicles such as buses, trains and trucks, in circulation by 2023, compared to just 260 at present.

They would be supported by 100 service stations, compared to 20 today.

The government will also encourage industries such as glass-making and chemicals to use the gas.

Making hydrogen green

Hulot presented hydrogen as a potential clean energy source, although at present 95 percent of the gas consumed in France comes from fossil fuels.

The ministry has set a target of 10 percent zero-carbon hydrogen by 2023 and 20-40 percent by 2028.

That means investment in electrolysers, which can extract the gas from water and can use the surplus produced by wind and solar power, which otherwise cannot be stocked in quantity.

In the long term green hydrogen may be used in the natural gas network, although the plan has not target in that respect.

Competition from Germany, Japan, China

The world's number two producer of hydrogen is a French company, Air Liquide, and power company Engie this year set up a division devoted to the gas, with pilot projects at Dunkirk in the north and Fos-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean coast.

Other companies have developed ways to produce electrolysers or combustible batteries, which can travel further than those in use at present.

"We are at a turning point for the development of a competitive zero-carbon hydrogen sector in France," electricity company EDF boss Jean-Bernard Lévy said at Hulot's presentation. "We want to be a major actor in it."

But Germany is already ahead, with 100 hydrogen service stations and companies like Daimler and Linde investing in the field, and Japan and China already have ambitious plans.

The Chinese have already preparing factories to produce thousands of hydrogen-powered buses, for example.

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