Hydrogen: why French auto parts makers are on top
The automotive plastics manufacturer Plastic Omnium is one of the winners of this first wave of projects. The family business will set up a production facility for hydrogen tanks in Venette with a capacity of 80,000 units per year. According to Plastic Omnium, it will be the largest in Europe. Start 2025. Investments of 160 million euros are planned between 2022 and 2028, 150 new jobs are at stake. Plastic Omnium is publicly funded with 74 million euros. “The support of the French state allows us to accelerate the ramp-up of our industrial production of hydrogen tanks in France“, emphasizes Laurent Favre, managing director of the device manufacturer. The automobile is indeed one of the potential key sectors for hydrogen.
Hyundai’s all-plastic paint job
Plastic Omnium has already opened a hydrogen tank factory in Belgium that will equip Mercedes coaches but also future Alstom trains! In 2023, another site in Korea with a capacity of 30,000 to 40,000 tanks per year will supply Hyundai, the most advanced hydrogen automaker with Toyota. Finally, the family group, which according to its managing director Laurent Favre wants to achieve “annual sales of three billion euros with hydrogen in 2030”, has decided not to limit itself to tanks. In 2020, it established a joint venture with German company ElringKlinger with more than 150 patents for components. The Stuttgart plant is already producing fuel cells, with an initial potential of 10,000 per year. By 2030, the French supplier is aiming for a world market share of 25% for hydrogen tanks and between 10 and 15% for the fuel cell itself. No less.
Notably in 2021, Forvia (ex-Faurecia), also a specialist in tanks capable of withstanding very high pressures, acquired the majority of CLD, one of the main Chinese manufacturers. “By 2030, China will represent a market of at least one million fuel cell vehicles,” said Mathias Miedreich, former vice president of Clean Mobility at Faurecia. According to the plant manufacturer, it has invested 270 million euros in hydrogen over the past four years. Forvia and Michelin are also 50-50 shareholders of the French SME Symbio. Target: to produce up to 10,000 batteries a year by 2024 in a brand new factory in Saint-Fons (Rhône), which will be operational in a year. With a “capacity of 100,000 fuel cell packs per year from 2028”, assures CEO Philippe Rosier. First customer: Stellantis. “All the know-how and components to produce a fuel cell are available in Europe, especially in France,” says Florent Menegaux, President of Michelin. Not like “electric car batteries, an area where Asia dominates”.
You still have to divide the cost by ten
Advantage of the hydrogen vehicle? Recharge in five to ten minutes for autonomy comparable to a thermal vehicle. Renault and Stellantis are currently testing hydrogen at utility companies. From a CO2 point of view, hydrogen now seems to be the best long-term technology, “both because it produces no exhaust gases when driving and because the ecological ways of producing this hydrogen are becoming increasingly competitive,” says Georgeric Legros, Director at Alix Partners . However, the handicaps are difficult. “We still have to divide the cost of the battery by ten,” acknowledges Florent Menegaux. The storage of dihydrogen at a pressure of 700 bar also requires highly resistant bottles. At Forvia we admit that this requires 40 kilos of carbon fiber per tank. It’s not economical at all! It is also necessary to create ex nihilo a network of stations that does not exist or almost does not exist to this day. Given the cost of one station (one million euros), the solution would be to install just a few along the highways, initially reserving the use of long-distance trucks.
In addition, the production of hydrogen is not yet environmentally friendly. “More than 95% of the hydrogen in the world comes from methane, oil or coal through polluting processes,” notes the daily ecology reporter re. The production of one kilo of hydrogen produces ten kilos of CO2! So the whole challenge of hydrogen plans is to decarbonize it. The Air Liquide group has an electrolyser project in Port-Jérôme (Seine-Maritime), in partnership with the German group Siemens, which will produce green hydrogen by 2025 from the electrolysis of water and renewable electricity. The fuel cell vehicle should be “competitive with battery electric vehicles” by 2030, says Patrick Koller, CEO of Forvia.
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