Carnot IFPEN Ressources EnergétiquesHydrogen

Growing support from the public authorities:

  • on 1 June 2018, the French government launched a Hydrogen Plan aimed at supporting its deployment within the context of the energy transition

    • promotes the use of green hydrogen (= low-carbon H2) for:

      • electricity production,

      • industry,

      • transport,

      • heat,

    • objective = 10% of hydrogen production from renewable sources by 2023.

The hydrogen value chain is made up of several segments:

  • production,

  • storage/conversion,

  • usages.

Hydrogen usages

Several hydrogen production processes exist:

  • natural gas reforming is the most widely employed hydrogen production process (95% of total production),

  • gasification,

  • the electrolysis of water, which accounts for 1% of hydrogen production. Its production costs depend on the price of electricity as well as the performance and duration of use of electrolyzers.

But a number of challenges still need to be overcome:

  • reforming and gasification techniques are economically profitable, but they do not meet the objectives of the energy transition since they emit CO2. They can potentially become carbon-neutral if they are combined with CO2 capture and storage technologies,

  • the electrolysis of water is interesting in terms of CO2 footprint if it uses low-carbon electricity, but its production cost remains prohibitive: the process is reserved for specific uses requiring high degrees of purity (electronics, for example).

While hydrogen also exists in the natural state, profitable production techniques still need to be developed before deployment can be envisaged.

Hydrogen is of interest due to the diversity of usages associated with it:

  • numerous uses already exist for:

    • refining of oil products, fuels and biofuels (44%, mainly for the desulfurization of fuels),

    • the production of ammonia (38%, mainly for fertilizers),

    • other chemicals (methanol, amines, etc. : 8%),

    • miscellaneous (space, food industry, glass industry, etc. : 10%),

  • and multiple uses to come to accompany the energy transition:

    • electricity production: hydrogen can contribute to grid balancing,
      Power-to-Gas consists in producing hydrogen via the electrolysis of water using surplus electricity production, primarily wind and photovoltaic. The hydrogen produced can be stored and subsequently converted back into electricity to balance the grid. The hydrogen can also be converted into methane via a methanation process: the SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas) thus obtained can be stored or used directly as natural gas. Hydrogen is more generally considered as a means of storing energy (an alternative or as a complement to electric batteries and PSPP), particularly on an inter-seasonal basis, when it is stored on a large scale in salt caverns (Power-to-Power). It is then converted in a fuel cell (FC) to produce electricity as required,

  • the decarbonization of industry: hydrogen can be injected into the gas network, mixed with methane: a concentration of between 5 and 25% can be envisaged,
  • the decarbonization of transport:

    • green hydrogen combined with a fuel cell can power an electric vehicle: the hydrogen tank considerably increases vehicle range (500 to 700 km) and improves filling time (< 5 min),

    • hydrogen as a back-up in an IC engine can improve a natural gas or dual fuel gasoline/natural gas combustion system (IFPEN CIGAL concept), 

    • hydrogen associated with CO2 captured in a biomass conversion process for example, can be converted into synthetic liquid fuel (e-fuel).

Challenges relating to the roll-out of green hydrogen:

  • access to reasonably priced electricity,

  • cost reductions and improvement in the efficiency of systems throughout the chain: electrolyzers, fuel cells (FC), storage, etc.,

  • regulatory considerations (safety, standards): hydrogen installations are governed by French and European regulations relating to its production, storage and use in terms of the environment and the transport of hazardous materials,

  • incentive and stable energy policies (price of CO2 or restrictive regulations governing fossil energies),

  • public support (hydrogen plan).

Given the evolution of the energy mix and the necessary decarbonization of the transport sector to achieve CO2 emission reduction objectives, hydrogen may find a business model as an electricity storage intermediate or a fuel for an electric vehicle fleet fitted with fuel cells.

On a global level, IRENA, in its 2018 report entitled Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050 envisages that hydrogen may account for 8% of the transport sector’s energy consumption by 2050.


Developing economically sustainable technologies to integrate hydrogen into the energy mix.

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Jean-Christophe Viguié

  • Introduction of green hydrogen in refineries

Florence Delprat-Jannaud

  • Natural hydrogen, hydrogen storage

Stéphane Henriot

  • Hydrogen in the transport sector – fuel cell

Bertrand Gatellier

  • Hydrogen in the transport sector – combustion engine