In 60 years, since supporting the early days of the Ariane rocket, Air Liquide has developed unique and highly valued know-how in the hydrogen ecosystem. It covers the entire value chain.
In terms of low-carbon and/or renewable production, the group is pursuing 3 paths: steam reforming with carbon capture; various technologies based on biomethane; water electrolysis. Regarding the latter, Air Liquide is setting records in terms of on-site production capacity: 1.2 MW installed in Denmark in 2018 through the HyBalance program, 20 MW in Canada 3 years later near Bécancour, and 200 MW expected in 2025 with the Normand’Hy project (8.2 tonnes of hydrogen per day, enough to supply 2,000 cars or 230 trucks).
The company is also dynamic in extending the advantages of hydrogen. Thus by multiplying the energy density by 853 by cryogenics in 5 centers around the world to liquefy the H2 molecule. The company is also positioned in storage, distribution (by pipeline, in gaseous or liquid form by truck, in bottles), and the development of refueling stations.
battle of numbers
Today, 50,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles are in circulation around the world, including 10,000 heavy goods vehicles and 40,000 cars. The latter could be supplied solely by the production of the plant that Air Liquide recently inaugurated in Nevada. After an investment of 250 million dollars, it will be able to supply up to 30 tons of liquid hydrogen per day. Added to these figures are 25,000 forklifts.
“The phenomenon is accelerating with an awareness of the impact of mobility on the environment, and the strengthening of regulations in Europe and in the countries. Diesel heavy goods vehicles will be banned in Norway by 2025, and by 2035 elsewhere”, recalled Erwin Penfornis, Vice-President of the Hydrogen Energy world business line for Air Liquide. In his figures, he added 700 filling stations. Air Liquide has designed and/or installed 200 of them in Europe, Japan, South Korea and the United States. The speaker pointed out that “Chinese operator Sinopec has scheduled the opening of 1,000 H2 stations by 2025”.
7 roles of hydrogen
Commercial Director of the Large Industries activity at Air Liquide France, Monica Varagnata classified the 7 roles of hydrogen into 2 categories. The first brings together 3 points that promote the development of renewable energies: electricity production, distribution and storage. The 4 other roles are grouped around the decarbonization of end uses: heat and electricity, industry (energy, and production of low-carbon raw materials or renewable sources), transport.
Today, hydrogen is exploited for the refining of petroleum products, more precisely to reduce the sulfur content. “It is also necessary in the production of biofuels, for example those obtained from waste oils”warned Monica Varagnat. “In refineries, hydrogen is used continuously. There cannot be a supply disruption. In the event of a shutdown, restarting the processes would take several days to a few weeks”she explained. “In the steel industry, hydrogen will gradually replace coal”she added.
Hydrogen in mobility
Erwin Penfornis aligned electricity, hydrogen, ammonia and synthetic fuels to decarbonize transport. “Hydrogen will play a key role in mobility. It is estimated that 50% of its use will be related to transport in 2050. This fuel can be transported by truck but also by pipeline. The energy density of hydrogen is significant, it is transported and transferred very easily”he characterized.
“Hydrogen is ideal in transport for high power requirements, long ranges or for intensive use. For these applications, battery electricity would be handicapped by the volume and weight of the accumulators. This technology is more suitable for light uses »he pleaded. “On the other hand, for heavy goods vehicles, it is better to turn to hydrogen. There are already large mining trucks that run on this energy. Stations will be installed on major road corridors. If it were instead necessary to build charging hubs for battery-powered heavy goods vehicles, this would require a power of the order of 50 MW, which represents the needs of a city of 30,000 to 40,000 inhabitants.he assessed.
“With a volumetric density 5 times higher than that of batteries, hydrogen is a good choice for taxis. After a full tank that takes 5 minutes, the driver can cover between 500 and 700 km”said Erwin Penfornis. “
In the rail sector, when the lines are not electrified, the 2 solutions are pursued, with a certain ascendancy of hydrogen all the same. The latter is being developed for maritime transport through which 90% of world imports pass, with ammonia which poses toxicity problems.he compared. “People no longer want to fly until we decarbonize air transport. However, we expect the arrival of 35,000 new devices in the next 20 years. There is also talk of synthetic fuels. But to get them, you have to add CO2 to them. This is one more step compared to hydrogen, which has experienced exceptional acceleration in the air industry for 18 months”he opposed.
3 groups of countries
For Matthieu Giard, the countries interested in hydrogen fall into three groups.
The first brings together those who historically have little or no major energy sources on their territory and who wish to decarbonize their mix. Thus Germany, which is fighting against both coal and nuclear power, but also Japan, where space is limited, and South Korea.
Conversely, the second group includes states that already have a lot of renewable energy and continue to develop projects in this direction. For them, hydrogen is used to make their facilities more efficient.
Finally, there are the historic producers of fossil fuels who are wondering how to sustain their imports with carbon-free sources. Russia and Saudi Arabia, for example.
By targeting the end markets of industry and mobility, Air Liquide bases its hydrogen development strategy on 4 levers that take advantage of the group’s historical strengths.
With the first, it is “capitalize on the industrial basins where we are already present”. It is not a question of scattering, but rather of being effective. The company has already identified 15 basins in strategic areas, including 3 in France: Fos-sur-Mer, Dunkirk, and in Normandy where Air Liquide has been present for 20 years, in particular to supply hydrogen to Esso and Total refineries. CO2 capture (Cryocap technology) started on site, in Port-Jérôme, in 2015. And it is there that in 2025 the 200 MW electrolyser should be commissioned in partnership with Siemens.
The second pillar is based on the group’s cutting-edge technologies and ability to innovate. Matthieu Giard insisted: “We control the entire hydrogen value chain internally. Only Air Liquide in the world can say that”.
Third axis: “Accelerate through partnerships”. The vice-president justified: “We must act collectively to make the energy transition a success”. He cited as an example the imminent creation of a joint venture with the ADP group to ensure the change to hydrogen at airports worldwide. But also exchanges with decision-makers, including those of the European Commission and governments.
The last lever relies on “operational excellence” of Air Liquide. “With hydrogen, we are not reinventing the wheel. We already distribute gas. Hydrogen comes naturally to our businesses and our areas of expertise”developed Matthieu Giard.
As a reminder, his company already sells each year 1.2 million tons of hydrogen produced in its 53 units scattered around the world. She intends to keep her time ahead of this molecule. Thus by consolidating its achievements, including its proprietary technologies, its unique knowledge of the supply chain, the safety and reliability of operations, and the recognized expertise of its employees. Also by developing its strengths: optimization of energy supply, synergy between the group’s activities, investments targeted at the production, transformation and distribution of hydrogen.