French Nuclear Scheme, Green Hydrogen Theme, Michelin H2 Dream
The Intertubes are on fire with the latest news about Michelin Group diving into the hydrogen fuel cell business. Actually, this is not new news. Michelin announced big plans for fuel cells last year. New is the company’s French homeland, which is cementing plans to launch itself like a rocket into the global race for green hydrogen and presumably take Michelin with it, with an extra boost from the legendary Le Mans 24-hour car race and also a nuclear power angle.
Michelin group revolves around hydrogen fuel cells
Fuel cell technology dates back to the 19th century, but commercial applications were initially limited by cost and efficiency. That didn’t change much for a while until new, nano-tailored, advanced materials emerged in the 21st century.
That’s roughly when Michelin comes into the picture. Michelin is best known as a tire maker, but tire manufacturing has launched it on the path of advanced materials research leading to applications beyond tires, and fuel cells are one of them.
Michelin started focusing on fuel cells about 15 years ago, and things have been moving rapidly in recent years. The company increased its interest in the technology in 2019 when it formalized a company called Symbio with fuel cell company Faurecia. In September 2020, Michelin announced a comprehensive hydrogen mobility strategy (for those of you new to the topic, fuel cells generate electricity by manipulating hydrogen and oxygen).
Can you see the green hydrogen in this picture?
As stated last September – when the news was new – the strategy revolves around building a new industrial site for the Symbio companynear Lyon, from where Michelin will leverage its fuel cell business with other industry stakeholders.
It is cementing Michelin’s hydrogen strategy firmly in its home country of France. In addition to the new Symbio system, a main focus is the “Zero Emission Valley” project in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, with which 1,200 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are to be used for commercial use and 20 hydrogen filling stations. To support the project, Engie from Michelin and France invested in the gas station company Hympulsion together with public sector investors.
But wait, there’s more. To raise public interest in fuel cell technology last June Michelin and Symbio followed suit Mission H24 project, which envisages the 24-hour endurance race “24 Hours of Le Mans” of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest in 2024 with hydrogen-electric racing cars under the banner of H24Racing, whereby the GreenGT company is the technological end of things takes over.
Last year Michelin also reminded everyone that it has a membership stake Hydrogen Europe and the European Clean Hydrogen Allianceand at the same time promotes hydrogen fuel cell technology as “one of the few technologies to promote industrial and energy sovereignty for Europe”.
“Hydrogen is a strategic growth area for Michelin,” added the company. “A significant part of the group’s business will effectively not be tire related in ten years.”
With this in mind, Michelin Group announced last Thursday that it had doubled its commitment to fuel cells as part of a diversification strategy that also covers other material-related areas, including 3D printing, composites and medical materials. The aim is to achieve sales of 20 to 30% without tires by 2030.
“The group also aims to become a leading global provider of hydrogen mobility by supplying hydrogen fuel cells or components through its subsidiary Symbio,” emphasized Michelin.
The Michelin image dissolves around green hydrogen
Since hydrogen is hydrogen, there is hardly any need to purify the sustainability of the supply chain before Michelin can equate fuel cells with decarbonization. Almost all of the world’s hydrogen supply currently comes from natural gas.
In order to promote natural gas as a sustainable hydrogen source, some gas actors have started to discuss the idea of combining hydrogen production with carbon capture systems. This solution sounded sketchy from the start, and last week BloombergNEF essentially called it a waste of time. So it’s a good thing that Michelin doesn’t seem to be pulling in that direction.
Instead, Michelin tends to grow the green hydrogen field explosively, mainly focusing on the use of electrolysers to push hydrogen out of the water by applying an electrical current.
The Zero Emission Valley Project is a giveaway. In addition to the 1,200 vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells and 20 filling stations, the project includes 15 electrolysers. Engie formulated the goal for green hydrogen back in May 2019 when the project started.
“ENGIE, which is certain that renewable hydrogen is the missing link on the way to a decarbonised energy system, has taken a leading position in the energy transition in order to accelerate the emergence of a decentralized, decarbonised and digitized system in which renewable energies are available Energies will play a key role, ”said Franck Bruel, deputy CEO of the company.
Then there is the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance. The organization is strongly committed to adding “low carbon” hydrogen to its mission, which could include natural gas plus carbon capture as well as biogas. When the organization drafted its plan last November, the focus was on a short-term target of 6 gigawatts or more of renewable hydrogen electrolyser capacity in the EU by 2024 to meet a 40 gigawatt 2030 target.
France is immersed in the green hydrogen pool
To further confuse matters, most people include nuclear power resources under the “clean” hydrogen tag. For example, last fall, France added more fuel to the hydrogen fire when it launched a € 7 billion hydrogen investment plan, which SP Global characterized as “green or carbon-free hydrogen” from non-fossil sources, among other things.
Green or clean, the alternative hydrogen field is already overcrowded. Last week, CleanTechnica took note of a zippy new “Clean Hydrogen” fund called FiveT, which includes a mashup from oil and gas service company Baker Hughes and fuel cell company Plug Power. FiveT’s press materials continued to insist “clean” with no non-fossil claims, but the company cleaned things up in an email to CleanTechnica.
“On the production side, our focus is clearly on electrolysis projects with renewable energy sources and, in some countries, on supplementing the use of nuclear power plants to support low-carbon H2 production. We are not targeting CCS projects as the Fund’s catalytic role is less needed to develop these projects, ”explained FiveT.
Clean hydrogen breathes new life into nuclear energy
This nuclear thing isn’t all that good news for sustainable hydrogen fans who prefer to put the green spotlight on renewable energy. However, nuclear fans are revolving around the idea, and France is one of the nuclear-friendly countries that could have this opportunity.
Part of France’s new € 7 billion hydrogen plan (FRH2 for Federation de Recherche Hydrogène) provides for nuclear power plants to be put into operation during periods of low usage to generate electricity for electrolyser systems. That doesn’t necessarily mean brand new fleets of nuclear power plants need to be built all over the country, but nuclear fans are already more than a little excited about the prospect of hydrogen-fueled growth in their industry.
The idea has also caught on here in the US, where the Department of Energy is using carbon-free hydrogen production to extend the life of existing nuclear facilities while work on next-generation nuclear technology continues.
On the flip side, what is sauce for France may not be sauce for the US, where alongside other renewable resources there are fabulous long coastlines teeming with untapped offshore wind power.
In both cases, both non-fossil hydrogen and fuel cell activity are picking up speed in the US. Last year alone, the Department of Energy launched a new $ 64 million round of R&D funding for low-carbon hydrogen with a focus on reducing the cost of electrolysers and $ 100 million for a new fuel cell truck and vehicle initiative a new agreement with the Netherlands sounds terribly like a mashup of offshore wind and renewable hydrogen.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Courtesy of the Michelin Group.
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