From producing clean transport fuels to the future hydrogen economy \\$quot;“ Air Liquide is establishing leading edge technologies to fully participate in the global
An Air Liquide hydrogen station provided hydrogen to a dozen hydrogen cars in the centre of Paris, just near the Eiffel Tower, during the Challenge Bibendum.
This is a proof of the technical feasibility of using hydrogen as a new energy source for clean mobility. Nevertheless, the most optimistic people forecast that
there are still 30 years ahead for hydrogen to be available for the mass market.
Without doubt, the world\\$quot;s largest industrial gas company is pushing the technical barriers and striving towards public acceptance and understanding.
First of all, it is necessary to develop new hydrogen storage for cars; users must be offered sufficient autonomy in the order of 500 km as a minimum.
Refuelling the car with hydrogen must be as similar as possible to those encountered with a traditional fuel, and at a comparable cost. Secondly, using hydrogen in fuel cell still costs four to six times more compared to traditional fossil fuels and there is some important development work to be done to decrease this difference.
"The question is how much a customer is prepared to pay for clean fuel? Everybody is green as long as it doesn\\$quot;t cost more," FranÃ§ois Darchis, Air Liquide\\$quot;s member of the Executive Committee, laughs.
Darchis states: "We are facing the chicken and the egg dilemma; no hydrogen cars because there are no refuelling stations, and no deployment of hydrogen
stations because there aren\\$quot;t cars to be refuelled."
To boost the implementation of this new hydrogen economy, the challenge is to meet the needs of a hydrogen station network as efficient as existing fuel network and hydrogen cars as affordable and reliable as traditional cars.
Historically, the hydrogen business has been dedicated to industrial applications in food, glass, steel and semi-conductors industries. But a new application
appeared 10 years ago with sulphur removal from hydrocarbons.
Today, the hydrogen supplied by Air Liquide to refineries all over the world prevents the discharge of approximately 600,000 tons of sulphur oxides into the
atmosphere a year, i.e. more than the quantity emitted annually by a country such as France. The Air Liquide hydrogen turnover amounted â‚¬650m in 2005 and Air
Liquide masters the complete hydrogen \\$quot;˜chain\\$quot;, from research to production, distribution and applications.
Air Liquide already operates a network of 1,700 of hydrogen pipelines worldwide starting from over 200 production units to provide customers from various
"To open the new world of hydrogen energy, there are still some challenges. Among them, we have to produce \\$quot;˜green hydrogen\\$quot; (for example combined with
CO2 sequestration), to bring the hydrogen network close to major cities, and to prepare the public acceptance," explained FranÃ§ois Darchis.
Conscious that the use of hydrogen in a vehicle is a breakthrough innovation which obliges the public to \\$quot;˜do things differently\\$quot;, the Air Liquide group is contributing to a very signifi cant number of projects and events aimed at progress in research and innovation, as well as public acceptance of this new vector of energy, in particular by means of training and communication. The company is rolling this business concept out into the energy markets, such as the hydrogen economy,which is perhaps the one of the most visible ways to demonstrate the company, its core business and involvement in people\\$quot;s lives.
The influence of Air Liquide in the clean fuels business
Darchis explains: "We had a discussion this weekend(Challenge Bibendum in Paris, p. 28) on alternative fuel and clearly the future will not be dominated by the easy oil. It will be more and more a combination of different fuels. And guess what? This will require very large quantities of our first 100 years main product\\$quot;¦Oxygen!"
"First of all, if you want to be clean when producing energy using fossil fuel, you must reduce CO2 emitted during the combustion step. One way to achieve this is to sequestrate the CO2. But before being transported and trapped, the CO2 in the fumes must be concentrated. Using Oxygen as a combustive instead of air eliminates the nitrogen and allows getting concentrated fumes which can directly be sequestrated. Secondly, if you want to turn coal, gas and biomass
into fuel, you have to go through an intermediate step: gasification. Oxygen is used as a chemical reagent to produce \\$quot;˜synthesis gas\\$quot; which in turn, is converted into a synthetic crude oil that is used to produce the more environmentally-friendly, low sulphur fuels and cleaner burning products in order to lower CO2 emissions.
Darchis says it's important to be involved in GTL projects///
"We have two big avenues, either gasifi cation or \\$quot;˜oxycombustion\\$quot;. Both methods require large amounts of oxygen and consequently this is a very important market for us," Darchis explains. "Most of the units are also very big, and that\\$quot;s where we come into the game." (Air Liquide has the capability to build up to
5,000 tons per day ASUs)
At the moment, Air Liquide has two large oxygen supply facilities feeding important energy systems - in Italy and in Spain - but according to Darchis the
company has new projects in the pipeline, mainly in the US.
New energy opportunities all over the world
The United States has begun to require a lot of clean energy and wants to use coal in a more effective way, either by gasifi cation or oxycombustion. "Many of the programmes in the region are also supported by the Department of Energy (D.O.E) to test technologies. We are facing some challenges, improving the cost effectiveness of the process and demonstrating through pilot projects the availability of the technologies. In terms of emissions, it is much better. "I can see the use of oxygen in power generation increasing, but this depends on regulations. The main growth for us is currently in the US where we are
aiming towards oxycombustion."
The same thing will be done in Europe, using the German coal reserves.
Alberta, in Canada, is becoming the \\$quot;˜Middle East of the West\\$quot; due to its energy resources available in abundance in oil sand. The oil is mixed into the sand.
At present, a whole industry for exploiting and refining the oil resources is being put in place, and the issue of respect for the environment is seriously taken into account.Tests are beginning on cutting edge processes using oxygen and hydrogen to transform the viscous bitumen extracted from these sands into sulphur-free synthetic oil.
"China owns huge coal reserves. This country is more likely to transform the coal into liquid fuel or chemicals(CTL or CTC) to address the booming energy demand,especially for ground transportation.
"Air Liquide has already developed an expertise in this field through the South African experience. The Air Liquide group provides the oxygen used by SASOL to
produce its liquid fuels."
"We are facing the chicken and the egg dilemma"///
Since Qatar began monetising its reserves, natural gas has been the main focus as the country seeks to become the world\\$quot;s top exporter of LNG by 2007.
However, with so much natural gas at its disposal, Qatar is looking to utilise more of its resources and manufacture transport fuels through GTL projects.
Darchis agrees that even though the market is today solely for LNG, the opportunities for GTL means that it is important for Air Liquide to be ready to provide the technological solutions, as any such projects will
involve large oxygen units.
Air Liquide naturally has its own projects it is working on in the region. According to Darchis it is important to know and clarify what the business model is. The usual market has always been to have oxygen units and pipelines selling oxygen, nitrogen and argon as well as liquid products.
"We have looked and are looking into different countries within the region and we want to establish a real presence there and be the fi rst international to participate in the Middle East region on a large scale. This is one of the key areas in the world where we see major industrial gas projects."
Air Liquide\\$quot;s growth strategy is permanently a mix of presence, innovation and new territories. "Our presence in Middle East is fully part of this strategy." To give us an idea of the markets\\$quot; evolution, Darchis explains that the company\\$quot;s Electronic business is moving heavily towards Asia, Large Industries is focused where the natural resources exist (Middle East,Russia and South America), Healthcare in the US and Europe where people are ageing and getting wealthier at the same time. Healthcare market will also move in to China and India but this will take a little longer.
Redefining the future
Darchis says: "We need to have some strong drivers for growth, which help us to redefi ne our future. So therefore it\\$quot;s important to be involved and understand the new world. It\\$quot;s vital for Air Liquide to be involved in those new markets for learning purposes and that it is our responsibility as a world leader to open up new markets and introduce scientifi c and technological innovation in society."
" 20 years ago, people were looking at this industry thinking its dirty and old fashioned, polluting and unsafe; people were lacking interest. And our industry
was not an exception. Today we want to connect with people and show what the industry can bring to the people.
"And it is unique for the company to have some adventures where you can bring people together and demonstrate the company to people. Hydrogen economy, but also healthcare, homecare, food safety, i.e. improvements of quality of life are a perfect way to show that we are a modern and open-minded firm and very committed in sustainable development. Even if we are today mostly a B to B company, our gases are present in everyday life products," states FranÃ§ois
It has taken some one hundred years to turn \\$quot;˜business-to-business\\$quot; focused Air Liquide a step closer to a \\$quot;˜business-to-consumer\\$quot; company. Indeed, talking
to Air Liquide today is somewhat different to what it was five years ago. What we are witnessing today is steady brand creation and consumer focus, something
that was not actively pursued before. But the world changes and so does Air Liquide.
"We want to be seen bringing solutions to the people. In the new energies field, our industry is working very hard to ensure this new revolution as it opens
a large array of innovations and sales. Oxygen and hydrogen will have a major role to play.
"I hope through these activities, Air Liquide will become well known, not only because of our flag but because of our solutions we develop for people and
industries in more than 70 countries."