Beyond its traditional industrial applications (mainly petroleum product chemistry and refining), hydrogen has real potential to fuel the energy transition. Hydrogen can play a part in decarbonising certain sectors, including transport, as well as facilitating the storage of surplus power from renewable energy production. However, it is essential that hydrogen production shifts towards clean methods (e.g. water electrolysis and low-carbon energies) rather than relying on hydrocarbons, as still occurs in 95% of cases today. A fully-fledged sector is now being established, driven by both long-standing industry players and start-ups at the forefront of innovation.


In June 2018, the French Ministry of the Ecological and Inclusive Transition launched a National Plan for Hydrogen based on three key pillars:

  • decarbonising industrial hydrogen (10% by 2023 and between 20% and 40% by 2028),
  • producing decarbonised hydrogen for transport (light and heavy vehicles)
  • supporting enhanced energy storage capacities.

A year on and the “Industries of New Energy Systems 2019-2021” strategic sector contract  set  the target of producing competitive decarbonised hydrogen for use in all areas (industry, transport, power-to-gas and energy storage) within the next decade. Within this framework, priority is given to the deployment of mature technologies, support for pioneering the technologies of the future and decarbonised hydrogen storage. The project, led by Afhypac, involves multiple participants including Air Liquide, CEA, Edf, Engie, Enedis, Grdf, Grtgaz, Rte, Storengy, Terega, Total and Vinci, as well as competitiveness clusters and regional authorities.


Hydrogen: an energy conveyor

Hydrogen is not an energy source but an energy conveyor. The energy it contains is extracted  either by burning it (burning 1 kg of H2 releases three times more energy than 1 kg of petrol and produces only water), or using a fuel cell (H2 coupled with an air supply and introduced into a heat pump, which generates electricity whilst discharging only water).



What has been achieved to date?


In 2019, the French government provided funding to the tune of almost €92 million to speed up development across the sector. €11.5 million of this overall figure was allocated to the five winners of the 2019 call for projects aimed at decarbonising industrial usage. Two of these projects focus on trapped hydrogen (one by Kem One in the petrochemicals sector, and the other by Storengy and Engie Solutions in the agri-food industry). The other three projects relate to on-site production using an electrolyser (two by Engie Solutions in the pharmaceutical and agri-food sectors, and one by Hynamics in materials chemistry). The remaining €80 million will be used to finance the twenty winners of the “Mobilité hydrogène” (“hydrogen mobility”) call for projects launched at the end of 2018, and should allow for the deployment of 43 dedicated service stations and 158 heavy goods vehicles.

During the first few months of 2020, the Ministry has been working on an additional support programme. It has already launched an AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure), namely “Large-scale projects on the design, production and use of hydrogen systems”, aimed at identifying sector-leading projects and speeding up the large-scale development of innovative technological components for industrial and infrastructure projects. Support will come from national calls for projects and ventures at European level (EU Projects of Common Interest, innovation funds). Another AMI launched at the end of January should help to boost the development of hydrogen mobility in the rail sector (e.g. bi-mode electric/hydrogen trains to replace diesel traction).



Developing green hydrogen production across France

In France, there are increasing numbers of H2 production projects at regional level. Dijon, for instance, will start fuelling its clean vehicle fleet from its own production unit, which is powered by electricity from waste incineration (500 kg/day). In Vendée, a pilot site powered by wind energy (300 kg/day) is set to supply company and local authority plants (see Lhyfe). The HyGreen Provence project, which aims to produce, store in salt caverns and distribute ‘green’ hydrogen on an industrial scale, should ultimately supply several sectors: transport, heating and cooling energy for an eco-district in the Durance, Luberon, Verdon urban area, as well as industry. In Brittany, the new company Hygo (comprising Engie, Energies Morbihan and Michelin) will produce green hydrogen at local level to cover Michelin’s industrial requirements and power a recharging station for light vehicles.

It is also worth noting that last January McPhy, France’s leading low-carbon H2 provider, was chosen to power Europe’s largest hydrogen production electrolysis unit (20 MW; 3,000 t/year), based in the Netherlands.


Some examples of recent initiatives

Within the energy sectors, using hydrogen as a conveyor can promote the self-consumption of renewables at local level (e.g. in buildings, housing blocks and villages in non-interconnected zones ). PowiDian, for example, provides autonomous power stations with integrated hydrogen storage solutions. The company, which also offers hydrogen-based microgrid facilities, has set up an industrial development platform to accommodate projects from all sectors. Sylfen and the CEA (the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission) offer a further example, having developed the “smart energy hub” – a hybrid storage and cogeneration system that uses hydrogen conveyance. Based on rSOC (reversible Solid Oxide Electrolyser) technology combining an electrolyser and reversible solid oxide heating pump, the system makes it possible to store locally surplus electricity produced in the building, thereby providing an alternative to injecting it into the main grid. Alongside local solutions, hydrogen storage can also be designed on a large scale. CNR, for instance, France’s leading producer of exclusively renewable energy, is counting on one such large-scale solution to cover its future requirements.

Hydrogen can also bring flexibility to energy networks. In the gas sector, ‘power-to-gas’ allows energy to be reused via direct injection into the grid for use in combustion, or by the production of synthetic methane, which can then be transformed into heat, electricity or fuel. For example, the Jupiter 1000 demonstrator in Fos-sur-Mer produces hydrogen using two McPhy electrolysers powered by renewables supplied by CNR, which is then injected into the Grtgaz grid.


There is no such thing as a ‘hydrogen vehicle’ per se, but there are hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.


As a conveyor, hydrogen provides clean, flexible solutions across the transport sector. Hydrogen is stored and used in vehicles, where it acts as reserve energy. For instance, the “Businova” hydrogen-powered bus, developed by Safra and Symbio and already in operation in Versailles, Auxerre, Toulouse and Le Mans, can be recharged in 30 minutes even in stations with medium capacity (< 80 kg/day) to provide up to 300 km of range. Advances are also being made in rail transport (e.g. the SNCF’s TER H2 project, which will be rolled out across four regions of eastern France by 2025), river transport (e.g. the European H2Ships project) and maritime transport (e.g. tourist shuttles, solutions being trialled by Energy Observer, the partnership between Armateurs de France (the French shipowners’ association) and Afhypac (the French non-profit Association for Hydrogen and Fuel cells partnership), etc.).


Read more :

  • In June 2019, the International Energy Agency published a report entitled “The Future of Hydrogen: Seizing Today’s Opportunities”. It highlights the three major challenges facing hydrogen energy (reducing production costs, developing infrastructure and introducing legislation to promote the production of decarbonised H2), identifies four key opportunities and offers seven recommendations for achieving these objectives (

  • In February 2020, SIAPartners published a report on “La filière hydrogène-énergie en France” (“The hydrogen energy sector in France”). This report reviews the environmental issues, features in-depth discussion of new and promising uses, describes the structure of French stakeholders and highlights the strategies and challenges facing the sector (

  • In February 2020, the French Automotive Platform (PFA) published a technical review of the sector, “Hydrogène et pile à combustible” (“Hydrogen and fuel cells”) (

  • The exhibition area brings together the experts on energy and energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, biogas, electrical power generation and the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions (


Register to our newsletter

Stay up to date with industry news


Share This

Share this post with your network!