France’s hydrogen industry is betting on commercial vehicles to capture a share of the clean mobility market, faced with the growing dominance of electric vehicles. The country has set ambitious goals to develop hydrogen as a low-carbon energy source, aiming to produce 6.5 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen by 2030 and create 150,000 jobs in the sector.
One of the main applications of hydrogen is in transportation, where it can power fuel cell vehicles that emit only water vapor. Hydrogen vehicles have some advantages over electric vehicles, such as longer range, faster refueling and lower weight. However, they also face some challenges, such as high costs, lack of infrastructure and safety concerns.
To overcome these barriers, France’s hydrogen industry is focusing on commercial vehicles, such as buses, trucks and vans, which have higher energy needs and lower sensitivity to price than passenger cars. According to a recent study by the French Hydrogen Association (AFHYPAC), there are currently 253 hydrogen-powered buses and 80 hydrogen-powered trucks in operation or on order in France. The study also identified 140 hydrogen refueling stations across the country, with 34 already in service and 106 planned or under construction.
Government support and private initiatives
The French government has been supportive of the hydrogen industry, allocating €7 billion ($8.2 billion) to the sector as part of its recovery plan after the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of this amount, €2 billion ($2.3 billion) will be spent by 2022 to support the development of hydrogen production, distribution and usage. The government has also set up a regulatory framework to facilitate the deployment of hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure, such as tax incentives, subsidies and certification schemes.
In addition to public funding, several private initiatives have emerged to boost the hydrogen market in France. For example, Hype, a company that operates a fleet of hydrogen taxis in Paris, has partnered with Toyota, Air Liquide and Idex to expand its service to other cities in France and Europe. Another example is Hyport, a project led by Engie and the Occitanie region, which aims to create a green hydrogen hub at the Toulouse-Blagnac airport by 2025. The project will produce hydrogen from solar and wind power and use it to fuel buses, trucks and aircraft.
A competitive edge in the global market
By focusing on commercial vehicles, France’s hydrogen industry hopes to gain a competitive edge in the global market, where electric vehicles are dominating the passenger car segment. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), electric car sales reached a record high of 3 million units in 2020, accounting for 4.6% of global car sales. Meanwhile, hydrogen car sales remained marginal, with only about 10,000 units sold worldwide by the end of 2020.
However, the IEA also predicts that hydrogen will play a key role in decarbonizing heavy-duty transport, such as trucks, buses and trains, which are harder to electrify due to their high energy demand and long-distance travel. The IEA estimates that hydrogen could power 13% of trucks and 12% of buses globally by 2030, if supported by adequate policies and infrastructure.
France’s hydrogen industry is well-positioned to seize this opportunity, as it has a strong industrial base, a supportive government and a growing network of projects and partnerships. By developing innovative solutions for commercial vehicles, France’s hydrogen industry could become a leader in the clean mobility race.