In 2013, France’s government began cooperating with the national Afhypac association on holding Journées Hydrogène dans les Territoires, that is, Hydrogen Days in the Regions, each year in another one of them. Last September, it was Occitanie’s turn to invite people to Toulouse.
Around 440 people came from all over the country to the annual meeting of hydrogen professionals, that time in the capital of Occitanie, created in 2016 from the regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées. It was an event mostly by the French for the French, however. Few had arrived from somewhere outside the country, albeit those who attended were a more diverse group than at some other events and included a relatively high number of women, many young engineers and staff from startups, and more than one-third of all participants were a highly interested and committed group of public sector officials from France’s regions, cities and towns. Also in attendance were manufacturers and energy suppliers, of any type and size, such as Areva, Atawey, EDF, Engie Cofely, Haffner, Mahytec, McPhy, Michelin, Plastic Omnium, Powidian, Pragma Industries, Safra, Stäubli, Symbio FCell and Toyota. Representatives for the CEA had arrived as well, though researchers were clearly in the minority.
Those seeking information about local efforts could listen to, for example, regional or city representatives, who talked about ongoing projects, or energy businesses, which explained their corporate hydrogen strategies. The event was also the first opportunity for France’s environment ministry, as well as agency Ademe, to inform the public about the requirements projects need to meet to become part of the hydrogen road map set up by the former French minister for the environment, Nicolas Hulot. At the same time, the exposition rooms had been made available to anyone who wanted to discuss ventures with partner organizations.
The focus of the event was on hydrogen production via electrolysis and its use mainly in public transportation, with the railroad industry being the most favored one. That French manufacturer Alstom’s first fuel cell railcar, Coradia iLint, had taken its maiden run in Germany shortly before the event was a matter of some pride for the French hydrogen community. Still, the nagging question was, “Why didn’t it run in France?” In some way, then, the demonstration of the train’s capabilities has given the community a push to start these kinds of projects at home.
Plans are to open the first hydrogen bus line in the country in Pau at the end of 2019. Because of France’s law on the transformation of the energy industry, mass transit companies have come under pressure: From 2020 on, at least half of the buses they buy need to be equipped with clean engines. In 2025, each newly acquired bus needs to be a low-emission one. Goodbye, diesel!
In late September, Occitanie’s regional government and energy supplier Engie founded the HyPort association, which will manage a project bearing its name. Its aim is to test the use of hydrogen in all kinds of vehicles used at the Toulouse-Blagnac and Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées airports.
Funding is available
One reason for the lack of discussion about storage options and problems, and fuel cell technologies, was that the projects showcased in Toulouse have already been well-adjusted to the funding regulations of the EUR 100 million hydrogen road map. Half the money will reportedly be spent on electrolyzer systems and the other half on a set of measures designed to achieve milestones of the road map. This year, Ademe will start with the first EUR 100 million. The initial project call is being drafted and its managers are merely waiting for the ministry to give the green light.
After one-and-a-half days filled with networking opportunities, as well as one information event about projects, strategies and funding regulations after another, the event ended with tours of one of three sites in the region, namely a research facility called PACAERO-CEA, a hydrogen-powered waste-to-energy plant named VaBHyoGaz at Trifyl, and Safra, a business that doesn’t just refurbish hydrogen buses but designs and builds its own, branded Businova.
One thing was clear thereafter: France’s regions, communes and businesses are all set to turn Nicolas Hulot’s hydrogen road map into a reality.
The 7th Journées Hydrogène dans les Territoires will take place this year in Marseille.
Written by Uta Mummert, who went to Toulouse on behalf of Peter Sauber Agentur Messen und Kongresse GmbH.