Producing hydrogen (H2) by electrolysing water is a unique way of storing intermittently-produced renewable energy, developing clean transportation and reducing the carbon footprint of certain industrial processes.

Screen shot 2018 03 29 at 15.55.01

Source: Areva H2Gen

Industrial start-up Areva H2Gen is one of five global players, and the only one in France, to be able to deliver on these promises using Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolysis technology, explained CEO Pascal Pewinski (left).

“Two major challenges face the world today: reducing CO2 emissions and atmospheric pollution. Climate change and global warming are impacting the environment and people,” Pewinski told gasworld. “Increasing use of renewable energy is one solution to cut back on GHG emissions; however its development is as yet limited given that production is intermittent. Developing the ability to store surpluses produced on especially sunny and windy days is now of the utmost importance.”

“This energy may be stored as H2 when not immediately used by the network. Water electrolysis is a carbon-free technology emitting nothing but oxygen, making it possible to store electricity as H2. Moreover, when using renewable sources of electricity, the production of H2 through electrolysis is completely neutral in terms of C02 emissions. It will soon be known as ‘green H2’.”

Pewinski said electrolysis using PEM is the only method that is fast and flexible enough to deal with significant variations in power due to the intermittent nature of renewable sources.

PEM Electrolysers

Source: PEM Electrolysers

“This unique technology can meet the challenge of balancing networks with the increasing integration of renewable sources. Demand is very strong in the market. In 2017, Germany failed to inject 2 TWh of energy produced by renewable energy (RE) into its electric grid. In the same year, China wasted 100 TWh of renewable energy due to a lack of storage solutions, while RE already contributes 15% of the energy mix.”

“The French gas network operator, GRT Gaz, is currently trialling the integration of a percentage of hydrogen in the network, via the project Jupiter 1000. Producing hydrogen by electrolysing water is also the subject of research for other huge markets,” he explained.

The decarbonising of industrial H2 is a rapidly-growing market, leveraging huge electrolysis units for refineries and fertiliser plants.

“And most importantly, the future of cleaner forms of transportation, with the use of H2 in Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles for example,” Pewinski stated. “These help cut back significantly on atmospheric and sound pollution, since they emit nothing but steam and their engines are quiet. What with automotive manufacturers including Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Volkswagen, BMW, GM and Mercedes, some Chinese manufacturers, train manufactures Alstom, shipbuilders and even aircraft manufacturers, the world of transportation is developing vehicles relying on H2.”

“H2 vehicles have electric engines powered by fuel cells. They deliver the same performance as thermal vehicles: a 500 to 800 km range, charging in under five minutes. Some electric cars boast hydrogen fuel cell range-extenders (for example, the Renault Kangoo).”

“The setup of charging infrastructure is a crucial stage in transport development. Germany has taken this on board, building 400 service stations by 2023, a third of which are expected to be fitted with electrolysers. Japan has scheduled 225 charging stations by 2025 and 900 by 2030.”

“To set suitable objectives and resources in France, AREVA H2Gen is counting on the Hydrogen Deployment Plan for Energy Transition, for which a report has been commissioned by Nicolas Hulot, French Minister for Environmental Development and Solidarity.”

Concluding, Pewinski said as yet there are few players in PEM electrolysis. “As of today, a mere five firms worldwide are developing PEM electrolysis. Three of these are investing in R&D and two are marketing electrolysers. AREVA H2Gen is continuing with R&D and marketing a range of electrolysers and project engineering services abroad.”