The French government has launched a €7bn ($8.2bn) national hydrogen strategy that includes a target to build up a capacity to produce H2 from non-fossil sources via 6.5GW of electrolysis by 2030.

While other national plans – for example in Germany – aim at the production of ‘green hydrogen’ from renewables such as offshore wind, Paris, without mentioning nuclear power directly, speaks of ‘carbon-free’ hydrogen, which according to French press reports could include H² produced with nuclear electricity.

“France is convinced that carbon-free hydrogen will be one of the great revolutions of our century: for the decarbonisation of the industrial sector, to develop and deploy emission-free mobility solutions, to store energy and provide additional responses to the intermittency of renewable energies,” ecological transition minister Barbara Pompili and economics minister Bruno Le Maire said at the start of a 17-page document to explain the strategy.

Due to an electricity mix that emits little CO², France is in a good position to produce carbon-free hydrogen, the strategy states. The country’s current power mix includes more than 70% nuclear, and an increasing share of wind and solar power, with very little generation from fossil sources.

Le Maire in June was already cited by the Reuters news agency of favouring the development of a hydrogen sector that also uses nuclear power, as well as a close cooperation with neighbouring Germany. The latter could prove difficult, however, as Germany is phasing out its own nuclear power generation by the end of 2022, backed by an overwhelming majority in the country that deems atomic energy as too dangerous.

Under President Emmanuel Macron, the government has wavered on earlier pledges for a fast reduction of nuclear power, and now envisages to lower the share of atomic power in its energy mix to 50% only by 2035.

France currently uses some 900,000 tons of hydrogen per year that is produced from fossil sources, mostly in refining and the chemical industry.

The strategy is building on already existing programmes from a 2018 hydrogen plan to support the deployment of hydrogen.

Ahead of international competition

France’s H² plan, which follows up on strategies presented by the Netherlands and Germany, also stresses the need to stay ahead in a global competition in the recently much hyped sector.

“If we want to acquire and maintain a competitive advantage, if we want to remain at the best global level and to get ahead of American and Asian industries in the long term, we must join forces at European level, by bringing together researchers, by facilitating industrial cooperation and by pooling our financing,” the ministers said.

Funds for the development of a hydrogen economy include an initial €2bn as part of a €100bn stimulus package through 2022 against the Covid-19 related economic slump (€30bn of which is earmarked for green energy).

The H² plan aims at reducing French CO² emissions by six million tons by 2030, about the equivalent of the annual emission of Paris.