The European Hydrogen Road Tour made a three day stop at Paris Motor Show 27 – 29 of September. As local event host, Air Liquide had provided the stand, a slot for four H2mS fuel cell vehicles at the electric vehicle test drive facilities, a VIP event with panel discussion and a mobile refuelling facility at their facilities in Versailles. A definite highlight of the event was a VIP cocktail with François Brottes, Member of Parliament (Député of Isère) and Chairman of the Commission of Economic Affairs at the National Assembly and Jean Desessard, Senator of Paris, as local politicians and representatives from Air Liquide, the four car manufacturers participating in the Road Tour, the European Fuel Cell and the Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH-JU).
The political messages passed on to the audience of about 40 guests invited by Air Liquide turned out to be encouraging for the hydrogen industry. The message was passed that it is paramount for policymakers to facilitate the development of networks and infrastructures. In order to persuade both the general public and the decision-makers in France FCEV technology needs to be stressed as a pertinent new mobility option with the following important ingredients:
- the economic value of hydrogen operated fuel cells needs to be assessed and demonstrated,
- the actors involved in the development of fuel cell electric vehicles need to demonstrate with certainty that this new technology is safe in everyday use and to send strong signals to convince the public and
- the full value chains of hydrogen production in France need to be compared with those of other transport technologies, i.e. to guarantee that hydrogen operated fuel cell vehicles have a beneficial effect for the environment.
In addition, the policymakers stressed that the use of renewable energy for hydrogen production is a key ingredient if this technology should have a chance in France to become competitive with the use of fossil fuels in internal combustion engines which clearly need to be phased out in the long term. Expected advantages are the mitigation of climate change and the reduction of pollutant emissions in the cities.
The other important benefit of hydrogen could be its use as storage medium to balance fluctuating renewable energies such as photovoltaics or wind power, should it demonstrate a relevant potential.
The representatives from industry and FCH JU replied by pointing out several highly relevant aspects of how to prepare for a market introduction of fuel cell vehicles also in France. One important issue is the simultaneous use of hydrogen as vehicle fuel and storage medium for renewable electricity, which promises to improve the overall economics to develop the hydrogen infrastructure. In order to do this successfully, continuity will be needed both in the industrial engagement to provide the missing refuelling infrastructure and a larger number of cars to increase the infrastructure utilization.
Another, recently more often cited aspect is to build out the use of European and decentral energy resources to avoid blackouts in the energy system to avoid major damage to global economies, even though prominent politicians still deny a real threat. About 600 B€ are spent each year in Europe alone to import energy which is then simply burnt off, instead of creating values within Europe to provide a basis for a more sustainable energy infrastructure. This should become a major element of the energy SET Plan.
The value of demonstration projects is believed to be an important one, as regions can learn one by one hands on to how the introduction of fuel cell vehicles benefit not only the environment, but can also do that at little change to the existing transport network. Yet, also here it is true that continuity is applied as a demonstration project should be followed by further activities towards market introduction as otherwise, the roll out is stalled by investments remaining unused. I.e., as experience has shown also in Asia, demonstration projects should always be followed by a market introduction strategy.
Concerning the primary energy source to produce hydrogen in France, renewable electricity will become the preferred route in medium to long term, whereas other EU pathways in the short term may include its production from natural gas, through the use of nuclear energy and by means of carbon capture and storage as a means to mitigate GHG emissions from the use of fossil energy. Yet, French industry stands ready to participate in the build-up of a nationwide hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.
In parallel to the discussions also in Paris a test drive of all fuel cell vehicle brands was offered to VIPs and the public.