As the signs of climate change continue to compound around the world, many have been working out strategies to curb carbon emissions. While electric vehicles have been a steadily rising presence in multiple markets, others have been pushing hard for hydrogen adoption. In particular, France is pushing hard in this direction—so let’s take a look at recent developments.
At current stages of development in 2021, electric vehicles produced by major OEMs are both more practical and more feasible than they’ve ever been. Cost parity, particularly in Europe, is making the choice between EV and combustion vehicles easier for car drivers, as well.
While those vehicle segments are certainly important, they’re hardly the only areas where carbon emissions are an issue. Motorbikes come with their own sets of challenges as regards clean, efficient, affordable forms of power. Likewise, heavy equipment—think construction vehicles, heavy trucks, and trains, as just three examples—isn’t currently an area where electrification is practical.
That’s one of the areas where the E.U. is pushing for hydrogen adoption. For those unfamiliar with how hydrogen power works in vehicles, it’s currently stored in its gaseous form, and then goes through a process to separate electrons and ions to generate power. The only byproduct from hydrogen power is water, which makes it pretty easy to see why that would be attractive to someone looking for a cleaner form of energy.
There’s a catch, though. While it’s technically possible to generate so-called “green hydrogen,” it’s also currently the most expensive way to do so. In a perfect world, that green process solely using renewable energy (solar and wind power) to electrolyze water (separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms) and harvest hydrogen would be a great answer.
However, there is more than one way to make hydrogen. Currently, all the other methods result in varying degrees of carbon emissions being created. They’re also all currently less expensive options to choose. That said, if your primary goal is eliminating carbon emissions, they simply don’t make the grade.
Now, back to the divergent path of alternatively-fueled motorbikes in France. While electric motorbikes have been taking off across Europe as emissions regulations have gotten tighter, France has also been pushing forward with hydrogen-powered hybrids like the Mob-Ion TGT. In fact, in 2020, as part of the French government’s post-pandemic recovery, it announced plans to invest €2 billion (about $2.259 billion) into hydrogen sector development in the next two years alone—and a total of €7 billion (about $7.9 billion) by 2030.
Clearly, that isn’t only about scooters and motorbikes roaming the French countryside. Instead, France’s plans address a broader potential range for emissions reduction than just motor vehicles of any kind. Plans to explore hydrogen power for various industrial applications, like steel and concrete manufacturing, are also in the cards. Presumably, that’s why France is pushing hydrogen as a potential power source for two-wheelers as well—because it’s yet another area where its hydrogen push in bigger industrial sectors can potentially make an impact.
As with the EV debate regarding sticky topics like harmful extractive processes to mine the precious metals needed (not to mention effective and efficient recycling and reclamation at a battery’s and/or vehicle’s end-of-life), hydrogen power’s potential carbon neutrality comes with its own set of caveats. If France—and anyone else seeking to use hydrogen power on a large scale—can commit to green hydrogen production, it’ll be as big a boon to carbon emissions goals as intended. That’s an extremely big “if,” though—and it’s not at all clear whether that’s a challenge that can or will be met.