French energy group Engie and European aerospace joint venture Ariane Group have signed a cooperation agreement on renewable liquid hydrogen to speed up the decarbonisation of heavy-duty transport, trains, and airplanes.

The two companies plan to develop and test a hydrogen liquefier at Ariane Group’s industrial facility in Vernon, France. The cooperation also aims at developing a range of products and services on the liquid hydrogen line, primarily for maritime and inland waterway applications.

Ariane Group (formerly Airbus Safran Launchers) is a JV between European aerospace company Airbus and France’s Safran Group that bundles a large part of Europe’s space industry, including the production of missiles, launch vehicles and the development of the Ariane 6 space rocket.

"Thanks to the Ariane launch vehicles, Ariane Group is one of the few companies in the world to have sound expertise in systems and solutions based on liquid hydrogen,” Ariane Group chief executive André-Hubert Roussel said.

“At a time when hydrogen is playing a key role in the recovery plans of France and Germany and for the European Green Deal, we are looking forward to working on concrete projects with our industrial partners, local authorities and institutional stakeholders.

“The ongoing innovations in the launcher sector, such as the Prometheus ultra-low cost launcher engine, will further increase ArianeGroup's ability to make 100%-European hydrogen technologies and solutions accessible to all.”

Green or renewable hydrogen is produced by an electrolyser that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen using power from renewable energy sources. To liquefy the gaseous hydrogen, it needs to be cooled to extremely freezing temperatures of below -250 degrees Celsius.

The process has the advantage of reducing the volume of hydrogen by a factor of 800. That makes it particularly useful in applications where limited space is an issue, for example in airplanes.

Engie will bring in its expertise in liquefied gases to the ambitious R&D programme. The French utility is already involved in the development of green hydrogen for heavy-duty transport. The group is working with mining giant Anglo American to develop the first hydrogen-powered mine haul truck.

The company also was the first to fuel a regional passenger train by French industrial conglomerate Alstom with renewable hydrogen during tests in the Netherlands.

“Renewable hydrogen is a vital component of the energy mix and is one of the key industrial tools that will help us bring about the transition over to carbon neutrality,” Engie’s interim CEO Claire Waysand said.

“France's recovery plan firmly supports the development of hydrogen, and the European Green Deal evidences the crucial role that it will play in the energy transition.”