Facing the expected electric vehicle revolution, the future of hydrogen mobility in France, particularly for commercial vehicles, is at a crossroads. As electric vehicles gain dominance, hydrogen advocates are looking to secure their place in the clean mobility market. Here, we delve into the current landscape, challenges, and hopes for hydrogen mobility in France, especially for light commercial vehicles (LCVs).
France’s Hydrogen Strategy Under Review
Hydrogen mobility faces a reality check in France, with its high development and operating costs hindering its competitiveness against the rapid advancements of electric battery technology. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has raised concerns about the future of low-emission hydrogen due to a lack of political support and escalating costs. The French government is now in the process of updating its national hydrogen strategy launched in 2020. However, industry players are nervously awaiting the new roadmap, fearing a potential shift away from mobility towards the industrial sector.
Hope for Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs)
One significant area of focus for hydrogen mobility advocates in France is light commercial vehicles (LCVs). France Hydrogène, a federation of hydrogen industry players, believes that around 150,000 LCVs could be powered by hydrogen by 2030 out of the 6 million in the French fleet. While electrification remains the primary method for decarbonizing the sector, the industry argues that one-size-fits-all solutions may not be the best approach.
One notable advantage of hydrogen-powered engines is their compatibility with existing mechanical technologies found in diesel combustion engines, which allows for rapid conversion. French engine manufacturer EHM specializes in hydrogen engines for heavy goods vehicles, a market of around 12,000 vehicles in France. Orders for hydrogen tanks are on the rise, with manufacturers like Forvia supplying companies like Peugeot, Citroën, and soon Renault.
Challenges: Cost and Government Support
Despite the potential benefits of hydrogen-powered LCVs, they come with a hefty price tag. A hydrogen LCV costs approximately €100,000 to €110,000 in France, compared to €35,000 to €40,000 for a diesel LCV. The sector is urging the government to support, at the very least, maintaining existing aids that filled up to 40% of the cost difference between diesel and hydrogen vehicles, which expired at the end of 2022.
In Germany, authorities subsidize 80% of the price gap between diesel and hydrogen-powered LCVs. France Hydrogène suggests that around €600 million to €700 million would be needed to stimulate the market for LCVs and hydrogen refueling stations.
Additionally, an “incentive tax on the use of renewable energies in transport,” which obliges fuel distributors to offer alternative fuels like hydrogen or face penalties, could significantly impact the sector if applied over multiple years.
Without adequate support, France risks producing green hydrogen for foreign vehicles or a potential return to diesel for heavy goods vehicles, particularly those powered by biogas.