Air Liquide SA, the French industrial-gas supplier, and Germany’s Siemens Energy AG announced they have signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop electrolysis and hydrogen technology.

The companies on Feb. 8 said they will collaborate on industrial-scale hydrogen projects. They said the joint venture is designed to support the development and mass manufacturing of electrolyzers in Europe. An electrolyzer is a technology that uses electricity to break water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Several countries in recent months have unveiled plans to use hydrogen to help decarbonize their industrial sectors, including power generation. A British company recently announced a hybrid project that would use wind energy and small modular reactor nuclear technology to produce power and green hydrogen.

“Hydrogen will play an essential role to achieve the European Union’s objectives for CO2 [carbon dioxide] and greenhouse gas emission reduction,” the companies said in a news release, adding that “in order to meet rapidly growing demand, and to lower costs, it is key to accelerate the production of sustainably generated hydrogen through large-scale Proton Exchange Membrane [PEM] electrolyzers.”

The companies said they will apply for the project’s funding under the European Union’s (EU’s) Green Deal, a plan designed to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050. The companies said the funding applications will fall under the Green Deal’s Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI)-scheme for hydrogen, which is supported by the French and German governments.

Opportunities Already Identified

Air Liquide and Siemens Energy said they have already identified cooperation opportunities for large-scale sustainable hydrogen projects in France, Germany, and other European countries. Those projects include Air Liquide’s H2V Normandy project in France, which has a capacity of 200 MW and is considered one of the most important European projects for hydrogen production from renewable energy.

“Hydrogen is a key enabler of the energy transition. In the context of an unprecedented acceleration in Europe of hydrogen technologies and markets, the time to scale-up is now, notably in France and Germany,” said Benoît Potier, chairman and CEO of Air Liquide, in a statement. “The partnership between Air Liquide and Siemens Energy paves the way for the creation of a leading European ecosystem capable of supplying decarbonized hydrogen at competitive prices and promoting the emergence of a low-carbon society.”

Christian Bruch, CEO of Siemens Energy, in a statement said, “Building up a sustainable hydrogen economy will still require to amend the framework conditions in the energy market. However, it will be through partnerships and collaboration that we can shape this market. We highly appreciate to co-create innovative solutions with Air Liquide. Collectively we will overcome the challenges that lie ahead to industrialize the technology and make sustainably generated hydrogen a success story.”

Power-to-gas projects using green hydrogen are underway in the U.S. and elsewhere. Houston, Texas-based McDermott International last week announced that its CB&I Storage Solutions business has been awarded a contract by New Jersey Natural Gas for the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) of a power-to-gas facility in Howell, New Jersey. The facility will use solar power to produce green hydrogen for injection into an existing natural gas distribution network for home and commercial use.

Other groups have announced waste-to-hydrogen projects as a way to produce a renewable supply of hydrogen for the power generation and transportation sectors.

Germany’s National Strategy

Germany in summer 2020 announced a National Hydrogen Strategy, in which the country earmarked $8.2 billion for investments in new business and research around green hydrogen, along with another $2.3 billion to support international partnerships around hydrogen development.

Bruno Le Maire, the French Minister of Economy, Finance, and the Recovery, in a statement Monday about the Air Liquide-Siemens venture, said, “Now is the time to invest massively in order to develop new value chains and new technologies. Now is the time to act.” Le Maire said France expects to invest €7 billion ($8.5 billion) in hydrogen-based technologies “between now and 2030 to make our economy more competitive and more decarbonized. The ambitious project of Air Liquide and Siemens Energy is only the beginning of an industrial cooperation that must develop beyond a Franco-German alliance.”

German Federal Economy Minister Peter Altmaier in a statement said, “Hydrogen is a key element for the success of Germany’s energy transition and crucial for European and global efforts to combat climate change. Germany is strongly committed to support the market ramp up of hydrogen technologies and is working hard towards European Hydrogen IPCEIs. Against this background, I very much welcome that Siemens Energy and Air Liquide join forces in this domain and I am looking forward to seeing strong Franco-German hydrogen projects coming online soon.”

World’s Largest Membrane Electrolyzer

Air Liquide at the end of January inaugurated what the company said is the largest membrane electrolyzer in the world, at a site in Bécancour, Quebec, in Canada. The company said the facility supports the production of low-carbon hydrogen on a large scale.

The new electrolyzer features four distinct units that use PEM technology to generate 20 MW of power, according to Air Liquide. The company said “the PEM electrolyzer makes it possible to produce hydrogen from water electrolysis using electricity generated by renewable technologies. This impressive breakthrough demonstrates Air Liquide’s ability to roll out promising technological solutions designed to produce low-carbon hydrogen on an industrial scale. The site also includes a test bed for the next generation of electrolyzers under development and is now a satellite of Air Liquide’s Campus Innovation site in Delaware.”

Air Liquide said the Quebec project will be almost entirely powered by renewable energy from Hydro-Québec, the province’s public utility that provides power to Quebec and also exports some electricity to the U.S.

Air Liquide said the Bécancour facility “can produce over 8.2 metric tons of low-carbon hydrogen per day,” adding that “this production capacity makes it possible to supply the group’s North American customers with decarbonated, high-purity hydrogen and help reduce their carbon footprint.”

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).