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Decarbonizing mobility with green hydrogen : what is the role of public authorities in hydrogen ecosystem constructions ?

When we talk about hydrogen, public actors have a central role to play in driving and supporting the process. We are talking about it today with Amaury Vaussanvin, co-founder of Synops Conseil, which helps communities begin their energy transition.

Lhyfe Heroes: “You provide local authorities with advice on decarbonizing mobility. Can we say that hydrogen is automatic? Is this still the right solution? »

Amaury:"No, it's not that simple. There are currently three valid alternatives with advantages and disadvantages:

1. Bio methane:

•Advantages: it has a good overall carbon footprint

•Disadvantages: it remains a fossil fuel, which emits greenhouse gases. It is considered that these gases have been avoided upstream and therefore that theoverall footprint is lower. But you should know that a vehicle running on biomethane still locally rejects the same particles and emissions as a thermal vehicle. Moreover, it will not be possible to produce biomethane on a massive scale because that would mean transforming agricultural land to produce this fuel. And even if we did, France does not have enough land to absorb all the necessary production.

2.Electric:

•Advantages: there are no emissions released when the vehicle is in motion,which is clearly what urban areas are looking for

•Disadvantages: currently the electric does not respond to intensive or heavyuse, it is rather an excellent alternative for light use, city dwellers. In addition, there is an infrastructure problem with electricity: it is not sufficient for all these small uses. We need to multiply the charging stationsand we are not able to do it everywhere. And finally, we must not overlook the complexity of recycling batteries that use rare earths.

3.Renewable hydrogen:

•Advantages: hydrogen, due to its energy intensity, takes over from electricityfor heavy and intensive uses, such as 44-tonne trucks, public transport orwhich require power, such as tractors for example . What is also interestingcompared to electric is the very short charging time and autonomy which, beyondthe comfort of the driver, have an interesting impact on the design of theinfrastructure in a city. From an infrastructure point of view, what isinteresting is that hydrogen makes it possible to build local ecosystems: weproduce and consume on the same territory, which is a major change in ourenergy paradigm.

•Disadvantages: to make hydrogen, you need electricity and therefore the overall efficiency is a little worse than that of electricity. And, to date, the technologies are still in their infancy so there is complexity in operating these vehicles or stations, but that's normal, it was also the case with electric vehicles.

 

L.H.: “You talk about hydrogen ecosystems: can you describe how it works? »

A: An ecosystem is, in a given territory, the addition of:

- A renewable hydrogen production plant

- A semi-centralized distribution station

- Hydrogen end-users

Beyond the local design of the system, there is a very interesting change in the energy paradigm: we produce what we need. We reason by rationalizing energy and we goback to questioning our uses; it is in total opposition to the current system of abundance and it raises the question of sobriety.

 

L.H.: “How do we manage sobriety in transport? »

A: We haven't talked about it in the solutions previously, but sobriety is still thebest way to reduce the CO2 emitted. And we will be forced to do so because weare not able to replace all thermal vehicles with clean vehicles. To encourage sobriety, cities can take concrete actions:

- Give back a prominent place to active mobility with more cycle paths, more pedestrian areas. Today, our cities were designed for the car. Residential areas are far from commercial and tertiary activity areas, which does not always encourage such mobility.

- Propose are liable and dense public transport network. There are two interesting strategies today:

o Free networks to encourage the use of public transport

o Networks that continue to pay to finance the transition of their vehicles

- Implement regulatory constraints, such as Low Emission Zones. If they start with good attention, these constraints can exclude some from the energy transition.Today, unfortunately, not everyone can afford to make this transition and we must support as much as possible rather than imposing the transition by leaving it aside.

L.H.: “Do you have any ideas for making the transition to carbon-free mobility affordable? »

A: Helping with the purchase of vehicles, consolidating uses and distribution in a given area and above all ensuring that local authorities drive the approach. By ordering a few buses, a few hydrogen household waste dumpsters, they can launch an ecosystem that will then benefit small local economic players and even Mr.Everybody.

L.H.: “And then, what prevents communities from doing it? »

A: There are financial brakes, it requires significant investments that are not easy those days… and then it requires technical and technological skills that are still not very widespread in institutions.

L.H.: “In a perfect world, how can we move the energy transition forward more quickly? »

A: I find it interesting to link the public and the private. On the public side there isthis long time, these strategic decisions... and on the private side there is acapacity for investment and technological innovation that will make it possible, I am sure!

L.H. :“Finally, which hydrogen innovation do you like and give you hope? »

A: “The retrofit! I find it great and it allows you to switch from thermal vehicles tohydrogen for very different uses, not necessarily urban like agricultural tractors for example.

picture : guilherme-stecanella

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Driving around France in a hydrogen car is anything but impossible for the Moviatech team!

Driving around France in a hydrogen car is anything but impossible for the Moviatech team!
Biarritz, Lyon, Lille... In 2021, the Moviatech team took on the challenge of driving to all these cities in a hydrogen car to understand what could still be holding back long hydrogen journeys. Drawing on their experience, they then developed an app designed to help users plan these hydrogen trips. Phillip Van der Merwe, CEO of Moviatech, shares his insights.

Lesson #1: It's possible!

"We planned our tour of France and managed to complete it on time, without any major hitches. It wasn't easy, it wasn't always smooth, but we did it. We took national roads, highways, and even drove from Paris to Lille and back on a single tank. Most importantly, we met many people who had never seen a hydrogen car before!
What's great about these cars is the comfort – they're very quiet, even on the highway!"

Lesson #2: Access to stations is still a real constraint

"The first step is to know where the stations are and the conditions for accessing them. This information is available, but you still need to plan your route in advance.
When we arrived at the stations we had planned on our routes, they were not always open, not always ready to fill our tank (they need to build up pressure and this can take time between fill-ups), and sometimes specific subscriptions were needed to pay for the fuel. In short, there were many constraints to manage before arriving at the station, often by calling the station directly. We experienced a 30-minute refueling stop because everything was ready, but we also waited 16 hours for a fill-up because a truck had refueled just before us!"

Lesson #3: An app is needed to simplify all this

"We returned with one conviction: the situation was not acceptable for new hydrogen users, and an app had to be created to make life easier for everyone so that this mode of transport could be widely adopted and help us decarbonize mobility. We created a patented app where you can see available stations, book a time slot, view the price of hydrogen, and see if the hydrogen is green or not. You can also plan your trip. This app also allows you to pay for the transaction with a single payment method.
Thanks to the use of AI, data, and blockchain, and the transmission of data between stations, energy producers, and vehicles, we eliminate all barriers related to the use of a hydrogen vehicle."

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What are the Renewable Fuels of Non-Biological Origin (RFNBO) and why they are so important for European decarbonation strategy ?

The European Union is currently defining the regulatory framework to create a new clean Hydrogen economy in Europe. Since 2020, the European Commission proposed many ambitious measures to support  Renewable Hydrogen. Indeed, true renewable hydrogen (produced through electrolysis only with renewable electricity)  is identified as one of the key lever to achieve European goals in terms of CO2 reduction. And the challenge is big : the EU even increased the target of renewables in our energy mix from 32% to 43%, because we need to act for climate.

On the 10th of February 2023, the European Commission proposed new rules to define how to produce renewable hydrogen and its derivatives (as Renewable Fuels of Non-Biological Origin (soon well known RFNBO). As the text received positive feedback from the European Parliament and Council, it should be very soon adopted in its final version.

Let’s explain them as simply as possible, thanks to Alice Ruczinski, working as European Funding Manager for Lhyfe.

How to define RFNBO  ?

Renewable Fuels of Non-Biological Origin (RFNBO) refers to the renewable fuels that are produced using non-biological sources. The term may designate renewable hydrogen itself but also its derivatives, i.e. advanced fuels based on renewable hydrogen. To be called this way, RFNBOs producers have to respect some rules to be sure that the final product that will be used in the transport sector or in the industry really has the lowest CO2 footprint possible.

To put it in a nutshell, RFNBO is green renewable hydrogen but also what is produced with green hydrogen such as SAF (sustainable Aviation Fuel), green ammonia, green methanol. 

What are the main rules proposed by the EU to produce RFNBO ? 

As you might know (and if not, please refer to this article) to produce RFNBO (aka renewable  hydrogen and its derivatives if you follow me) it requires a lot, but really a lot, of renewable electricity. 

This new European rule determines clearly which electricity to use and how to use it: There will be two types of possible connection between an electricity plant  and a hydrogen plant : 

  • Direct connection : the hydrogen production asset will be directly connected to the electricity production asset. For example this is how the hydrogen is produced in Lhyfe’s pilot plant of Bouin
  • Grid connection : the hydrogen production asset is connected to the grid and use electricity purchased through PPAs (Power purchase Agreement) with renewable electricity producers and that is : 
  1. renewable 
  2. additional. That is to say using renewable electricity production plant that were built less than 36 months before the start of the RFNBO production plant *
  3. generated at the same time than the production of hydrogen. To be precise, it will have to be electricity produced the same month before 2030 and even the same hour after 2030.
  4. generated in the same country than the production site of hydrogen ** 

In the meantime, what happens with other types of hydrogen ? 

Grey hydrogen, which still represents today the majority of the hydrogen available will have to go low-carbon and find certificates to do so. Different types of certificates will exist per country and depending on the scope of the methodology used to calculate CO2 emission. 

For RFNBOs, the major part of the lifecycle of the final product will be taken into account. It will be possible to trade those certificates, in a similar way as the carbon quotas today.

Remember that for now, it is just a proposal and final adoption will come soon, we will keep you posted !

reference : In the revised Directive on Renewable Energy (RED) proposal in 2021, 6th IPCC Report on the state of knowledge of climate change, its widespread impacts and risks, and climate change mitigation and adaptation

* this rules doesn’t apply in countries where the electricity from the grid has a carbon content lower than 18gCO2e/ MJ) 

**except for Sweden which is divided in 4 zones

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Switching to hydrogen by retrofitting

Does switching to hydrogen mean completely renewing your fleet? No! Retrofitting is the answer. Vincent Lallemand, Business Development Director at GCK Mobility (Green Corp Konnection) and expert in the retrofit of heavy vehicles explains the solutions available to you.

Léa: If you want to buy a hydrogen vehicle, you have two options: new or retrofit. What’s a retrofit?

Vincent Lallemand: A retrofit  is when you convert the drive train of a combustion engine vehicle to electric. In other words, you install an electric engine (in place of a combustion one), which is then powered, either by electric batteries of by batteries and a fuel cell. So you have either, on the one hand, a 100% electric vehicle, or, on the other, a “hydrogen vehicle” (which is really an electric vehicle powered by hydrogen).

Can people contact you to retrofit any kind of vehicle?

Yes. From light duty vehicles and cars to heavy vehicles, we even recently had a snowplough approved! If it’s a vehicle we’ve done before,  the project can be done very quickly.   If it’s a new product, we create a prototype (with no need for the manufacturer’s approval since 2020). Once the prototype has been produced, it must then receive European approval. We submit a request to the CNRV which carries out normative tests and issues approval to the manufacturer  – that’s us in this case – for a type of vehicle, with a type approval number. We can then roll-out the retrofitting of this type of vehicle for all our clients.

Are there other rules with which you must comply when retrofitting a vehicle in France?

There are several rules:

- the vehicle must be more than five years old,

- the engine torque and basic power must be between 65% and 100% of the initial combustion engine torque

- the weight of the vehicle must not exceed the weight of the initial combustion engine vehicle by more than 20%.

In other countries, retrofit is in fact allowed on new vehicles.

Choosing between an electric and a hydrogen vehicle is not so easy. What factors determine whether to power an engine with electric batteries or a hydrogen fuel cell?

The decision to retrofit a fleet is naturally guided by the objective of reducing CO2 emissions, which the electric engine allows. The choice of power supply is guided by the operational constraints of the carrier or mobility operator. The fuel cell gives vehicles greater autonomy and offers a much shorter charging time. For example, for a truck, 10 kg of hydrogen will allow it to travel 100 km and thus provide 150 kWh of electrical energy, which is equivalent to 1 tonne of electric batteries! In terms of charging time, again for a truck, refuelling with 40 kg of hydrogen will take around 30 minutes, whereas electric recharging would take over five hours.

So hydrogen has a rosy future ahead (we certainly think so at Lhyfe), but in which sectors particularly in your opinion?

In the short term, we are seeing a real interest in converting fleets of coaches, utility vehicles, refuse collection vehicles, concrete mixers, tractors, etc. The establishment of LEZs (low emission zones)  will have a major impact on the carriers that have to access them and they need to start decarbonising their fleets now!

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