France wants to lead Europe’s hydrogen society. Shipping is part of the plan

French plans to build a green hydrogen economy include backing for maritime and transport projects

The French government has announced the second of what could be five annual calls for projects to be funded in a  clean hydrogen energy drive. A significant element of this is rumoured to be focused on shipping.

The second announcement came in January as ministers of Macron’s government revealed the second call for tenders which will be launched in March 2020.

The government has pledged €90m in state aid to develop a hydrogen society in France, and already maritime projects are being backed.

In its anouncements the French government has said that it sees decarbonated hydrogen playing a key role to play in the country’s energy transition, particularly in limiting the CO2 emisisons in transport and industry.

The government has also pointed to the benefits of creating a new business sector and ecosystem as well as being part of the French drive to meet its Paris Agreement targets and to become a competitor in the global clean energy sector.

The ecosystem it refers to includes building up a new industrial sector, communities, research laboratories and programmes. This French 2020 funding call is being issued as a Project of Common European Interest, or IPCEI.

The European Commission created these as a way to help member states develop environmental support, particularly with nascent industries, without falling foul of the blocs state aid rules.

Hyseas Energy

One company already set to benefit from the first round is Hyseas Energy in the Southern French port of Toulon.

Hyseas, which is based in Cannes, is part of  the Hynovar consortium, and is working on a new lightweight tourist vessel to meet the increased environmental demands being set on vessels entering nearby national marine parks.

These reserves, Parc National de Port-Cros and des Calanques, are located in the Mediterranean Sea, either side of the French port of Toulon.

They  are reportedly increasing their environmental requirements making it almost a must that tourist boat operators wishing to offer services after 2020 demonstrate tougher emission limits, making operators seek new solutions.

The proposed vessel, which has yet to be fully designed, is projected to be 26 meters in length and have a capacity of 200 passengers. The 260 kg of compressed hydrogen gas will give 10 hours at 12 knots.

Arnaud Vasquez, a majority owner of Hyseas Energy, says the overall project is to build  hydrogen refueling infrastructure and demand in the Toulon area. As well as the Hyseas Energy ferry project, there are plans for a local bus and coach operator in Toulon to switch to hydrogen fuel, and potentially a company to begin offering hydrogen fuel cell port equipment. Another influential project partner is the Paul Ricard racing circuit to the North of Toulon which has begun to promote hydrogen-fuel celled powered racing.

Vasquez believes that part of the attraction of hydrogen, particularly green hydrogen that can be produced using renewable electricity, is that it has this use across different sectors, which will make the creation of a supply network more economical and easier. This is also what the French government will look for when building clean energy ecosystems.

There are other maritime related hydrogen projects in France, says Vasquez, who sees the government funds being able to rebuild the country’s engineering competence towards the hydrogen society.

However even after winning funds from the government funding round, Hyseas Energy has had to wait to receive the backing, meaning it has had to resort to novel ways to raise bridging capital as it pushes ahead with its design work. It has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds to continue with its interim R&D and project design work.

Hyseas is also part of another project consortium- The DNV GL led Marhysafe joint development project which launched in the latter half of 2019. This project focused on maritime hydrogen safety.

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