Academy publications

The Role of Hydrogen in a Decarbonised Economy


The National Academy of Technologies of France unveils its report presenting the major challenges for hydrogen to play a major role in the ecological transition and industrial development. It makes fourteen recommendations grouped into four themes and defines priorities for the uses of decarbonated hydrogen, taking into account the often-neglected economic aspects. It recommends the development of a French and European industry covering the entire chain from production to utilisation of hydrogen, not only targeting home markets but world markets. Finally, it recommends intensifying the Research and Development effort.

The objective of a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions, or even carbon neutrality by 2050, is sparking renewed interest in many countries, including France, in the production of decarbonated hydrogen. New uses for such decarbonated hydrogen are being considered, notably as a substitute for carbonated hydrogen in industry, injecting up to 20% into natural gas networks, conversion into methane or liquid fuels (e-fuels and in particular synthetic fuels for air transport), and the production of electricity by conversion in stationary fuel cells (powering eco-neighbourhoods or buildings) or onboard vehicles. Hydrogen is sometimes referred to as a storage vector for intermittent solar and wind energy. These different uses will compete with each other given the limited potential for producing decarbonated hydrogen in France if we exclude the use of nuclear electricity for its production.
The Academy analyses the problems of production, storage, distribution, and associated risks in order to deduce the promising uses and discard those which are not in line with economic and feasibility criteria, such as the massive storage of hydrogen that has been produced using electricity from renewable energy sources to once again produce electricity.
The main recommendations are as follows.

1- Give priority to and promote hydrogen applications by considering the cost per ton of carbon avoided.

- As a priority, ensure decentralised production of hydrogen by electrolysis for diffuse industrial uses as a substitute for the centralised CO2 emitting production.
- Develop the use of hydrogen for heavy transport and local urban and suburban vehicle fleets by equipping the major regional capitals, while always taking care of safety issues.
- Encourage the injection of decarbonated hydrogen into gas networks to stimulate demand and thus benefit from economies of scale in production.
- Develop industrial demonstrators of 100% hydrogen storage and distribution systems, in particular for energy supply in non-interconnected areas (NIAs).

2- Establish a favourable political framework

- Ensure the coherence of operations for demonstration purposes initiated by the territories.
- Develop system analysis tools and overall scenarios, coupling in particular the electricity and gas sectors.
- Secure the use of hydrogen by continuing standard-setting and regulatory work at the European level.
- Introduce a Europe-wide certification-of-origin for hydrogen, based exclusively on CO2 emissions during its production (which is not currently the case).

 3- Promote a French and European industry for the entire hydrogen chain.

- Promote in a voluntarist way a French and European industrial electrolyser/fuel cell sector in an already dynamic ecosystem and offer assistance to the companies of the whole sector by the amplification of shareholdings, support in equity capital, refundable subsidies, cash flow aid.
- Do not neglect the production of hydrogen by means of reforming/CCUS and the association of French actors of international stature with this technology.
- Valorise the operations for demonstration purposes by ensuring that they do not have as their main consequence the importation of equipment produced in Asia or North America.

4- Prepare the future through increased French and European R&D efforts.

- Intensify research and development, particularly on technologies with intermediate maturity, in support of the sector's take-off and the emergence of industrial groups with global ambitions.

Download The Role of Hydrogen in a Decarbonised Economy: Synthesis and recommendations of the Academy of Technologies

Download The Role of Hydrogen in a Decarbonised Economy. Report of the National Academy of Technologies of France. 2020, 106 p.