"While the number of hydrogen-related projects is soaring in China, the momentum is slowing down in Europe where regulatory uncertainties must be removed as quickly as possible" so as not to miss the energy transition and to curb the warming of temperatures linked to human activity, especially heavy industry, said Franc.

Former senior manager of the French group Air Liquide, he co-founded in 2021 Hy24, a management company that has already raised 2 billion euros with European, American, Asian industrialists and investors and the French Ardian, in order to "promote the global ecosystem of carbon-free hydrogen".

Q: What is the status of hydrogen infrastructure projects around the world? And since the launch of your first fund dedicated to the subject?

A: According to the World Hydrogen Council, in its latest report of 2023, the momentum has almost doubled in one year with more than 1,000 projects announced, or 320 billion dollars of investments worldwide.

Hy24 has invested in four companies, two project developers, Hy2Gen, Everfuel in Denmark, as well as in the renewable and hydrogen branch of Enagas in Spain, and in the most developed European network of hydrogen stations in Europe, H2 Mobility Deutschland.

Q: Why insist on hydrogen, when we are only talking about electrification of the world to replace CO2-emitting fossil fuels?

A: If we want to decarbonize heavy industry and energy-intensive sectors such as intensive transport (from taxis and trucks to boats and planes), hydrogen is essential to complement electricity.

But to be clean, it must be produced from renewable or carbon-free energies, that is to say from the electrolysis of water (H20) with electricity from wind, solar or nuclear, or extracted from natural gas, methane (CH4), by associating the capture and storage of CO2 emitted, especially if it makes it possible to go faster to reduce emissions.

The massive deployment of hydrogen is a leading indicator of the deployment of the energy transition, it is its standard. The faster you deploy it, the more it means that we deal with the most CO2-intensive sectors, that is to say the basic industries that emit the most, refining, fertilizers, cement, steel or chemicals. This requires ambitious planning and firm deadlines.

Hydrogen must also be able to come from the most competitive countries in renewable energies, such as Spain or the Maghreb countries. The use of nuclear power as another vector for electrolysis is relevant, but the renovation of the installed base will take a long time, there are conflicts of use of the electron, and renewable projects in Europe are often too small, too long and too expensive.

Q: What is Europe doing on hydrogen?

A: The Commission has planned for Europe to produce 10 million tonnes of carbon-free hydrogen and import 10 million tonnes by 2030. It is still necessary that the infrastructure for importing hydrogen or ammonia exists. To date, we are falling behind.

Debates on the Renewable Energy (RED) regulation have slowed its finalisation in Brussels. Regulatory uncertainty is a major impediment to investment decision-making. For example, for existing natural gas-based production, the regulations could have set a deadline for the launch of CCS (capture and storage) solutions within the decade or for the deployment of electrolysis solutions with the appropriate financial support. On this point, the regulation leaves questions.

Meanwhile, China is advancing. It has 150 declared electrolyzer suppliers, more than half of the manufacturing capacity and currently produces nearly 50% of hydrogen by electrolysis.

Q: What is the situation in France?

A: The France was very quick to support equipment manufacturers, those who will produce tanks, batteries, electrolyzers, such as Genvia, Alstom, Forvia, Symbio, McPhy or John Cockerill.

The challenge now is to deploy downstream usage and transport infrastructure.

© 2023 AFP