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What are these revolutionary “green power plants” that the French company is exporting to the world? – Evening edition of Ouest-France

It is possible to supply the city with a non-polluting power plant using only the energy of the sun. Ten years after its launch, Bordeaux-based HDF, which relies on “green” hydrogen, is preparing to pick up contracts around the world.

HDF Energy (for Hydrogène de France) is an SME from Bordeaux, recently listed on the stock exchange, which is hiring without hesitation and is in the process of winning contracts, especially in Africa, in a hell of a bet: power plants connecting photovoltaic panels to electricity generation, possibly wind turbines and hydrogen, to store energy and continue to supply the grid when the sun is not producing.

A complex system that does not emit carbon dioxide (CO2) at all. All you need is sun or wind, water, and a bunch of technology: solar panels and/or wind turbines, electrolyzers, hydrogen tanks, fuel cells, and a few lithium-ion batteries.

“It’s an intuition I had about ten years agosay it evening edition Damien Havard, Founder, CEO and Major Shareholder. After working in the construction industry, I created a design office specializing in renewable energies. While working for customers on hydrogen, I told myself that something would happen, that this gas would become commonplace. »

The advantage of hydrogen over batteries

A bit of technique… The problem with solar energy is its intermittency. When the sun goes down, the panels stop producing. Even in a sunny region, production takes only ten to twelve hours a day. Therefore, it is impossible to bet on supplying the city only with solar panels, instead of using one of these coal or oil plants, which it is now necessary to get rid of.

Some power companies rely on the interconnection of solar panels and wind power, which also produces at night, but there is still volatility in production, which requires the storage of electricity.

“When you don’t need to store electricity for more than an hour or twoLithium-ion batteries are satisfactory, says Damien Havard, even if they represent the problem of the materials needed to make them, then the problem of their recycling. » But when it is necessary to store and restore energy for 12 to 14 hours, “hydrogen is needed”assures.

how? Using electricity from solar panels to extract hydrogen from water using electrolyzers that “break” water molecules (composed of two hydrogen atoms into one oxygen molecule). Consumption of water, fresh or sea, no ” no problem “says Damien Havard, and feed the city, “corresponds to the number of several houses”.

The hydrogen produced in this way is stored indefinitely under pressure in metal tanks (or in a composite, if there is little space and the hydrogen must be further compressed), “Much cheaper than batteries”.

Damien Havard created HDF ten years ago based on the intuition that “hydrogen will be a given in the energy transition”. (Photo: HDF)

Continuous production with fuel cells

The hydrogen is then injected into fuel cells (Pacs) that convert the gas into electricity. This entire process causes a loss of two-thirds of the initial energy, “It’s the same pace as in a car engine​says Damien Havard, who reminds us that initial energy is rich, it’s the sun”.

While HDF buys its electrolyzers from other manufacturers (including France’s McPhy), the company has decided to produce its own fuel cells, “Who will be the first in the world of this power”. The device is complemented by several lithium-ion batteries that ensure the responsiveness of the device.

The fuel cell is an old technology. They have been found on sailboats and RVs for a long time. The German Navy has equipped its submarines with them since 1998. Pac buses have been running in some European cities since the beginning of the 21st century, and the movement was launched in France. Alstom launched the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell train in Germany in 2018, and several are on order in France. In the automotive industry, where it is still difficult to match the cost of technology to a consumer product, Mercedes and Honda have already launched models that have since been discontinued, but Toyota and Nissan are holding their ground.

HDF fuel cells, produced in cooperation with the Canadian company Ballard, will be the most powerful on the market. (Photo: HDF)

Canadian partner Ballard

The need for HDF varies according to the power of the Pacs needed to power not vehicles but entire cities. The Pacov that HDF will produce will be units housed in 40-foot containers (the equivalent of a long cargo trailer) with an output of 1.5 megawatts. Enough to supply 5,000 to 10,000 residents depending on consumption levels. HDF then multiplies the number of Pacs according to the customer’s needs.

“We chose to partner with the Canadian company Ballard, which has 30 years of experience and offers solutions that investors find reliable.”“, says Damien Havard.

HDF is therefore investing 20 million euros, supplemented by aid from the European Union, France and local authorities, in the factory, the construction of which is to begin on the site of the former Ford factory in Blanquefort, so that it can be put into operation in one year.

A key step for a company that was founded 10 years ago, but whose development received a major boost with the IPO in June 2021. HDF was thus able to raise 115 million euros and complement the contributions of other shareholders, the hydrocarbon storage specialist Rubis Terminal and Teréga, which manages the natural gas network in southwestern France, as well as its underground reservoir. With the latter, HDF works specifically on the geological storage of hydrogen.

First plant in Guyana

It is in the west of Guyana that in two years the first HDF power plant, a model called Renewstable, under construction, will start producing electrons and will replace oil-fired power plants. For each project, the company is connected with specific investors. In this case, the Meridiam fund and Sara, a subsidiary of Rubis.

But a whole series of contracts is looming: HDF has just won the first green light in Namibia for the 142,000 inhabitants of the city of Swakopmund, which until now was supplied by South Africa. Several projects are underway in several other African countries, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago. HDF always offers not only construction, but also operation and technical assistance.

The cost of electricity production ranges from 100 to 300 euros per megawatt hour. This is more than the price of nuclear power (around sixty euros) and closer to offshore wind power (around 200 euros), but it is the price of green and uninterrupted energy.

To implement all its projects, HDF, which achieved a turnover of 10 million in 2021 and has 80 employees, is currently trying to hire around 30 employees. “We are looking for people with experience in the field of renewable resourcesDamien Havard explains, English speaking, with business or engineering profiles, for the headquarters in Bordeaux and internationally. »

$160 billion of global hydrogen projects

The increase in HDF is indicative of the flight of hydrogen production projects around the world, which is consumed as a chemical feedstock in industry, or for mobility or as a fuel. The International Energy Agency has identified projects to mobilize $160 billion in investment, representing a total production of 62 million tons, but those actually under construction represent only 4% of total production. And the largest part, concentrated in Europe, is intended for “blue” hydrogen, that is, made from fossil fuels, with the capture and sequestration of CO2 (underground) so that it is not released into the atmosphere.

Production of “green” hydrogen without CO2 emissions, as with HDF, would remain in the minority. France itself has several projects in the West, especially in Normandy and at sea, as well as in Lyon.

However, huge “green” solar projects are being launched in China (in the desert of Inner Mongolia), Chile, India, Namibia, Morocco, Mauritania, Australia, Kazakhstan. But many observers worry that the production of electrolyzers, which underpins hydrogen’s production costs, is being concentrated in China at an unbeatable price, as is already the case with solar panels or lithium-ion batteries.

Another sensitive point, this hydrogen produced where there is sunlight and very large spaces are available, will most often be destined for export by ship. It will then have to be converted into liquid form, for example by converting it into ammonia, which will have to be transformed into hydrogen on arrival, which is intended to produce electricity. Energy conversion will not always be easy…

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