Following Germany’s example, France has announced a €7 billion hydrogen plan to develop a carbon-free hydrogen production industry. But what exactly is hydrogen? What challenges do sustainable mobility and Michelin face? This dedicated web page explores questions like these to help you understand what hydrogen is all about.

 

What is hydrogen and how is it produced?

Hydrogen (H2) is the most abundant element on Earth, but it is rarely found alone. This is why H2 is produced by extracting it from hydrogen compounds.

For the time being, hydrogen production is still very carbon intensive: globally, over 90% of hydrogen is extracted from hydrocarbons by using the following production processes:

  • Steam reforming of natural gas: methane molecules are cracked using water vapor to obtain a mixture of hydrogen (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Coal gasification: coal is broken down during heating to obtain a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen

 

The electrolysis of water accounts for a less significant portion of hydrogen production, and is a clean alternative as no CO2 is emitted during the process: electricity splits water molecules (H2O) into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2). Provided that the electricity is generated by renewable energy sources, this is an environmentally friendly process. This production method has the momentum behind it to be developed in the years ahead and is one of the priority objectives at the European level.

 

The main challenge of making hydrogen production carbon free is achieving cost levels that allow for widespread adoption.

 

Le principal défi de la décarbonation de la production de l’hydrogène, est d’atteindre des niveaux de coûts compatibles avec une diffusion en masse.

  • Hydrogen is classified into color categories according to the type of energy used to produce it
    • Green: hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water, using power from renewable energy sources ;
    • Blue: hydrogen produced from natural gas, in conjunction with CCUS* technology. CO2 is released and captured, and is either permanently stored (CCS*) or reused in an environmentally friendly way (CCU*);
    • Grey: hydrogen produced from fossil fuels without using CCUS or CCS technology;
    • Black : hydrogen produced from coal.

    Hydrogen produced by electrolysis from electricity emitted from nuclear power has no color (we speak of H2 low carbon).

How is hydrogen currently used?

Most hydrogen (over 90%) is currently used in industrial applications:

  • Chemicals: ammoniac (fertilizer) and methanol production
  • Refining petroleum products
  • Steel production

 

And in the future ?

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What are the properties of hydrogen?

Hydrogen is an extremely lightweight gas that takes up a considerably large volume under normal pressure conditions i.e., at atmospheric pressure. In order to effectively store and transport hydrogen, its volume must be substantially reduced, and there are many ways of doing this. One method is to store it in gaseous form under high pressure, a proven technique that is commonly used in FCEVs*. Another is to store it in liquid form at very low temperatures.

When compressed to 700 bar in a passenger vehicle, the combustion of one kilogram of hydrogen releases around three times more energy than an equivalent amount of gasoline.

How does a hydrogen-powered vehicle work?

The engine of a hydrogen-powered vehicle runs on electricity generated using a fuel cell. The fuel cell combines the oxygen in the air with the hydrogen stored in the tank to generate electricity, and the only by-product is the water released by the vehicle.

As well as contributing to cutting greenhouse gas emissions produced by the transportation sector, hydrogen power also can help improve air quality, particularly in urban centers. In addition, hydrogen makes it possible to store excess renewable energy generated by wind turbines or solar panels.

 

 

 

Full cell

technologie

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Can hydrogen-powered vehicles be considered electric vehicles?

Yes, hydrogen-powered vehicles are electric vehicles, just like battery-powered vehicles. The key difference is the way the energy is stored on board.

A hydrogen-powered vehicle (FCEV*) is an electric vehicle with an autonomous power supply provided by a fuel cell. It offers many of the same advantages, including zero CO2, particulate and pollutant emissions tank‑to‑wheel, and smooth, silent running. These vehicles boast a similar refill time to vehicles running on traditional fuel (provided that an adequate network of refueling stations is in place).

This technology is complementary to battery electric vehicles (BEV*). BEVs have been on the road for a number of years, whereas FCEVs have been rolled out more recently.

What is the difference between a fuel cell and a battery?

Battery and hydrogen fuel cell technologies are complementary and together are paving the way for the mass electrification of vehicles.

What challenges do hydrogen-powered vehicles face?

There are many challenges, with the future of hydrogen power intertwined in particular with the climate- and energy-related ambitions of governments, national strategies under way and subsidy programs introduced by public authorities to support the switch to hydrogen-powered mobility in terms of infrastructure, vehicles and energy costs.

 

The economic challenge basically lies in the industry’s ability to develop from small- to large-series production, shifting from the scale of the laboratory to that of the mass-producing plant. The volume effect will be very significant once annual production exceeds 10,000 for automotive systems.

What challenges does Michelin face?

Michelin is convinced that hydrogen technology is a key solution for improving air quality, cutting CO2 emissions and promoting the energy transition. Having worked on fuel cell research and development for more than 15 years (fourth generation of the hydrogen fuel cell), Michelin is now at the cutting edge of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

 

Michelin is set to fast-track its development projects:

  1. Becoming a world leader in hydrogen battery systems with Symbio, the joint-venture founded by Michelin and Faurecia
  2. Developing hydrogen-powered mobility at the regional level while simultaneously developing vehicles and infrastructure HymPulsion
  3. Boosting hydrogen-powered mobility through motor racing. Michelin and Symbio became partners of MissionH24, a project looking to integrate hydrogen-powered technology into endurance race vehicles competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2024
  4. Bringing together players in the hydrogen sector from across the entire value chain
  • The global market for hydrogen-powered vehicles in figures

  • Did you know?

    2019 market: 16,000 light vehicles and 1,600 heavy-duty vehicles operating on hydrogen power were in circulation worldwide, powered by a network of 407 refueling stations.

  • Did you know?

    By 2030 (Michelin estimates): 2 million hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (80% light vehicles and 20% trucks and buses)

  • Vehicules
  • Hydrogen fuel cell
  • Did you know?

    Since the very beginnings of the space industry, hydrogen has played a vital role due to its use as a rocket fuel. Liquid hydrogen is still used today to propel the European Arianne 5 rocket.

Vocabulary (marked in the text with *)

BEV: Battery Electric Vehicle

CCUS: Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage/The technique of reducing carbon footprints by reusing CO2 as an input for industrial applications (CCU) or by storing it underground (CCS)

FCEV: Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle

 

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