France starting up ten hydrogen projects with EU support

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne wants to make France the champion of low-carbon hydrogen. To achieve that goal, Ms. Borne presented an initial list of ten selected projects on Wednesday. These should allow for the creation of a “sovereign sector” for producing hydrogen that so far is still very greedy for fossil fuels.

While hydrogen, unlike fossil fuels, has the huge advantage of emitting only water vapor and no greenhouse gasses, when used in a car or truck, it is currently produced mainly from hydrocarbons.

Instead, France now wants to start producing carbon-free hydrogen, obtained by electrolysis of water and electricity from non-fossil fuels, such as nuclear or renewable energy.

New sector

“With hydrogen, we will be able to massively decarbonize our economy, including the most consuming sector such as the steel industry or heavy mobility. We will improve our carbon balance. We will be able to create a new sector, synonymous with sustainable jobs and energy independence,” said Elisabeth Borne, after visiting the research site of the automotive supplier Plastic Omnium located in Venette near Compiègne, a town in northern France less than 100 km from Paris.

Plastic Omnium, an automotive supplier specializing in the manufacturing and commercialization of plastics, is one of the winners of the first wave of projects, reports AFP. It will build a hydrogen tank production site in Venette, representing an investment of 160 million euros between 2022 and 2028 and 150 jobs.

This plant is one of the ten French projects selected by the European Commission, out of 41, to benefit from public aid under the first wave of the IPCEI programs (Important Project of Common European Interest) to support breakthrough industry and research.

Europe’s hobbyhorse

In July, 15 EU member states, including France and Belgium, approved up to 5,4 billion euros in public funding to support research and innovation, and first industrial deployment in the hydrogen technology value chain. The funding is expected to unlock additional 8,8 billion euros in private investments.

The European Union sets the bar high in greening its industry and transport sector and goes all out for hydrogen to achieve its goal of reaching climate neutrality in CO2 emissions by 2050.

The ten French projects will be supported by 2,1 billion euros in public funds, which will be accompanied by 3,2 billion euros in private investments, making a total of 5,3 billion euros. These 2,1 billion euros are part of the 9 billion euros committed since 2020 to the hydrogen strategy, financed particularly by the France Relance and France 2030 plans.

France is also a candidate for the following waves of EU-supported projects, on the production and uses of decarbonized hydrogen, then on production infrastructures and mobility.

Ambitious France

The construction in Compiègne of “Europe’s largest hydrogen vessels factory”, part of the 74 million euros support in Plastic Omnium’s growth strategy for hydrogen mobility, will produce 80 000 vessels a year, with the first ones produced as of 2025.

The company also signed two major contracts with Stellantis and HYVIA to supply high-pressure hydrogen vessel modules for commercial vehicles. As of 2023, Plastic Omnium will also collaborate with bus builder Safra to support the development of its Hycity range of hydrogen-powered buses.

Among the other French winners is McPhy’s Gigafactory project in Belfort, which aims to develop the manufacture of new generation alkaline electrolyzes, particularly for the transport sector.

President Emmanuel Macron had already announced in October 2021 that he would like to make France a “leader in green hydrogen” by 2030, to decarbonize industries, especially steel, cement, and chemical production, and ‘heavy’ mobility, such as trucks, buses, trains, and planes, which need clean hydrogen to replace fossil fuels to ensure energy transition.

France hopes to produce 6,5 GW of hydrogen by electrolysis by 2030 and create 100 000 jobs in this sector.

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