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The good way to produce Hydrogen, Lhyfe

Hydrogen might be the next kerosene to power our daily life, and Lhyfe wants to ensure that it is done correctly.

General presentation

Lhyfe is a Nantes-based company founded in 2017 that deploys industrial green hydrogen production plants for mobility and industry.

The startup founded by Matthieu Guesné, an engineer graduated from ESEO and former employee of the CEA, has about 60 employees and plans to double its workforce this year. To do so, it is currently recruiting about ten profiles.

Today, we hear more and more about hydrogen, which is presented as a green energy and many technologies using it are being developed. For example, we can talk about the ZEROe project of Airbus which is a hydrogen plane or the hydrogen car of Toyota. However, what is currently a problem is that the production of hydrogen is energy consuming and pollutes.

95% of the hydrogen currently produced is from fossil carbon resources (oil, coal, natural gas). The fact is that 1kg of hydrogen produced from fossil fuels emits 10kg of CO2.

Developing green hydrogen is therefore a major challenge for the energy transition.

The solution and its technology

Hydrogen is an energy carrier in the same way as kerosene. It is a gas or liquid that can easily be transformed into electricity or movement (to drive an engine for example). It exists in its natural state, but it is far from being profitable due to its rarity. It must therefore be produced, which can have a significant energy cost, and then transported, with gas pipelines, for example, to be able to use it.

Hydrogen is one of the main options for the storage of renewable energy, but also for the production of electricity, where, mixed with ammonia, it can be used in gas turbines to increase the flexibility of the electrical system. In addition, hydrogen has a wide range of applications and can be used, for example, in:

  • Industry, namely: oil refining, ammonia production, methanol production, and steel production;
  • Transportation, with “new” hydrogen vehicles;
  • Buildings, hydrogen could replace the gas used in the current network (i.e. propane).

With such an attraction, one wonders how to produce this new miracle resource? Currently, commercial productions work with two main methods:

  • Steam methane reformation;
  • Water electrolysis, which releases hydrogen and oxygen by passing a current through water (I’m simplifying, for the more curious you’ll find here a video that explains the process with brio and humor).

In both cases, a key ingredient is necessary: energy. The question then arises as to which energy(s) to use so that the hydrogen produced can be considered “green”. By 2020, nearly three-quarters of the world’s hydrogen production will be based on the use of energy from natural gas. After that, coal will take over and produce almost all of the last quarter, leaving little room for renewable energy. Natural gas and coal… finally the carbon intensity of current liquid hydrogen production methods weighs 153g CO2-eq/MJ (for comparison, kerosene is 88 gCO2 -eq/MJ). Not very green. It is therefore necessary to change the game, and this is exactly what Lhyfe is planning!

Lhyfe bases its approach on the electrolysis method and promises to use 100% natural renewable energy sources, such as wind power, photovoltaic power, hydro power, etc. And, since the hydrogen chain does not stop there, Lhyfe also promises to guarantee local (no production on the other side of the world) and responsible transportation (with the use of… hydrogen vehicles!).

Finally, (because we should not stop on such a good momentum), Lhyfe proposes to use the oxygen produced by electrolysis in order to reinject it into the oceans, which are more and more depleted in oxygen because of global warming.

Today, Lhyfe produces hydrogen on its first production center in Blouin in Vendée, joins many projects such as ENERPARC, H2goesRail, Doris, or Green Lab, and is actively working on its project of offshore production center, with the goal of changing the world!

Fundraising

In 2019, the company closed a first fundraising of 8 million euros from 5 private and public players including players from its region (Syndicat d’Energie de Vendée, Ouest Croissance and Océan Participation, SEM Vendée Energie).

In 2020, Lhyfe is selected by Bpifrance to benefit from the deeptech fund and thus receive about 2.75 million euros for R&D.

In October 2021, Lhyfe completes a second round of Series A funding of €50 million and welcomes SWEN Capital Partners and Banque des Territoires alongside its historical investors.

While Banque des Territoires will help Lhyfe to finance the production sites developed in France, SWEN Capital will help it on its international projects (notably in Denmark and Portugal).

One month ago (February 2022), Lhyfe raised 17 million euros from Andera Partners, Ovivre and Société Financière Lorient.

Accompaniment

Lhyfe is currently supported by many structures such as BPIfrance, including its deeptech cluster and its Hub, La FrenchTech through its selection in the FrenchTech Green 20 ranking, the French Republic via its Agency of Ecological Transition or the European Union.

Customers / Partners

The hydrogen produced by Lhyfe is intended for the industrial sector (metallurgy, chemical plants, refineries, plastics manufacturing plants,…) and transportation (car, bus, train, truck, plane).

Lhyfe has already signed several partnership contracts with, for example, DORIS or more recently ENERPARC (photovoltaic expert).

Lhyfe also has about sixty projects in France and abroad. For example, Lhyfe is working in collaboration with Deutshe Bahn (Germany’s largest railway operator) on the H2goesrail project or with Aquaterra Energy and Borr Drilling to develop a jack-up platform dedicated to the production of renewable hydrogen at sea.

Market

In 2020, France set up a €7.2 billion hydrogen plan to help the country become a global hydrogen player by 2030. This plan aims to develop the production of profitable “green” hydrogen and to democratize its use, particularly in terms of mobility. The Green Pact for Europe voted in 2020 puts in place strategies to pave the way for hydrogen and fully decarbonized energy sectors. It is therefore understandable that the issue of hydrogen and its use is of increasing concern to public bodies and companies.

Driven by demand from China, the global green hydrogen market is growing rapidly. According to a Bloomberg report, global demand for hydrogen is expected to reach 1,318 metric tons by 2050. The majority of hydrogen use is in industry with forecasts of around 341 million tons by 2050. The remaining 161 million tons will be used in transport, with a dominant share in aviation (95 million tons). To give you an order of magnitude, currently, 75 million tons of hydrogen are produced annually and we are not talking about green hydrogen.

As for Lhyfe, although this young company is French, it already has global ambitions and has teams in France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, and Portugal. These teams will soon be joined by new teams in Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy.

As Lhyfe itself says, “The project presents strong barriers to entry, materialized by technological locks that are difficult to remove: no electrolyzer has ever been directly connected to an intermittent renewable energy source and no project has been able to show the economic profitability of this mode of production until now.” Another important point in our view is the issue of competition

Competitors

France has many international industrialists capable of developing hydrogen. Air Liquide, is the French leader in industrial gases and one of the world’s largest producers of hydrogen. We also have Engie, which is testing the injection of “green” hydrogen into the French gas network. EDF and Total are also in the competition with stakes in McPhy, a designer, manufacturer, and integrator of hydrogen equipment via Hynamics, their subsidiary dedicated to industry and mobility.

We can also think of other big players in the market such as Safran, Alstom, Symbio, or Schlumberger.

So, even if Lhyfe presents itself as “the world’s first industrial-scale hydrogen production site to connect to intermittent renewable energy sources”, on our side, it is still difficult to understand what allows it to compete with the giants of the industry. What is certain is that Lhyfe arrives at a strategic moment of awareness and development of alternatives to fossil fuels.

To conclude, here is a list of startups that are currently developing hydrogen solutions:

The business part of this article was written by Emilie Nouacer, the tech part by Mathieu Van de catsije.

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Dreaming : this is probably what best defines the students of the Master’s in Innovation Management at PSL University. This program, which aims to be creative and collaborative, brings together a variety of profiles, all driven by a common objective: to create a better world.

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Mathieu Van de catsije

Mathieu Van de catsije

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” A. Einstein

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