The Alpine Arc dreams of becoming the new hydrogen lung

The Alpine Arc dreams of becoming the new hydrogen lung 01/02/2021

LA CONQUETE HYDROGENE, episode 1. This week, La Tribune AURA brings you into the heart of the hydrogen industry, highlighted by a 7.2 billion euro envelope, resulting from the France Recovery Plan. It begins with the genesis of the development of the Urals region, which alone brings together 80% of the players in the "H2" sector, as well as ambitious experimental projects, such as the Zero Emission Valley program, which aims to have 1,200 hydrogen vehicles on the road by 2023. How has the Auralpine Valley carved out an ecosystem worthy of the largest territories in Europe?

There are countless players who now have a foothold in the Grenoble basin, even within a radius of a hundred kilometers: Air Liquide, Symbio, McPhy, Vicat, Atawey, the CEA Liten and more recently Sylfen, or HRS, which has just gone public, but also Engie or Michelin. They have all grouped together around a valley they now call Zero Emission Valley, which has set itself the goal of becoming a "leading hydrogen mobility region in Europe" by accelerating the deployment of fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen stations.

With the financial support of Europe and the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes Region, the Banque des Territoires and several private players (Michelin, Engie, Crédit Agricole), the Alpine arc is dreaming of becoming the new lung of hydrogen. And not just any hydrogen, since it also wants to be "green", i.e. decarbonized, but also applied, in the field, with the upcoming deployment of 1,000 hydrogen vehicles and 20 stations, powered by 15 electrolysers by the end of 2023.

In total, nearly 70 million will be invested over the next few years to achieve this goal (including 50 million for the ZEV project alone), with the help of 55 companies, 26 research laboratories and 8 partner communities. This is well ahead of the stimulus package announced by the French government. This project is "unique in Europe" and, according to its instigators, demonstrates the presence of a special breeding ground in this region.

"This sector was born from the combination of research carried out in the region by CEA Liten and a number of companies such as McPhy, Atawey and Sylfen, on the one hand, and partnerships with regional clusters on the other (such as Tenerrdis, Axelera and the Cara, editor's note), and major groups present in the region such as Air liquide, Michelin, or Engie", summarizes Elisabeth Logeais, general delegate of the competitiveness cluster for energy transition in AuRA, Tenerrdis.

But also, special political support in the field of new energy technologies, supported both by the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region, the metropolis of Grenoble, and by European funds, which have come to provide a leverage effect alongside academic and industrial players.


"The entire Grenoble ecosystem has mobilized to test new uses for hydrogen," says Elisabeth Logeais. And that's nothing new, because the Isère basin has been built up, brick by brick, over the last 15 years or so, to create companies that are now emerging as potential leaders in the entire sector, and are now expanding rapidly beyond the regional perimeter.

"We've seen the emergence of leaders such as Symbio, which has joined forces with Faurecia and Michelin, or McPhy, which has found a significant financing dimension, or Atawey, which started up in 2012 and is currently recruiting very broadly to support its development," recalls Elisabeth Logeais.

"This is also the result of political choices, because hydrogen is a sector that requires significant investment, both from industry and the public authorities," notes Anne-Lorène Vernay, a member of the Energy for Society Chair at Grenoble Ecole de Management.

It is no coincidence that the new National Hydrogen Council, set up by the government, brings together a number of players linked to the Auralpine sector, including the CEO of McPhy, Laurent Carme, the CEO of Faurecia, Patrick Koller, the Chairman and CEO of Air Liquide, Benoît Potier, the Chairman and CEO of Vicat, Guy Sidos, and the new President of France Industrie, Alexandre Saubot.

Just recently, several local announcements made the headlines, such as the record $180 million capital raising, completed in a few hours by hydrogen producer and distributor McPhy, located on the border between Isère and Drôme. The Isère gem, already listed on the stock exchange, convinced a group of strategic investors, including the American company Chart Industries and TechnipFMC, in the space of a few hours.

The same goes for its counterpart Hydrogen-Refueling-Solutions (HRS), (formerly TSM), also a European designer and manufacturer of hydrogen refueling stations, which has just completed its IPO in a few days in anticipation of its success with investors. The Grenoble-based start-up planned to raise nearly 70 million euros to accelerate its development in the forklift truck, heavy goods vehicle, construction and public works and passenger car segments.


"The development of this sector began with experimental projects such as HyWay, which was the first project to deploy a fleet of vehicles, with a strong territorial anchoring in Grenoble, and which brought together different players (Air Liquide, Symbio, etc.) between 2014 and 2018, with the objective of deploying about ten vehicles and refueling stations," explains Elisabeth Logeais.

A project that is being used as a reference to move up a gear and deploy on a completely different scale through the Zero Emission Valley (ZEV) project that has succeeded it since its official launch in 2019. "The primary objective of ZEV was to multiply the impact at the regional level with the creation of a company, Hympulsion, responsible for finding an economic model behind the deployment of some 20 stations and 1,200 vehicles, and which is increasingly oriented towards heavy mobility," explains Elisabeth Logeais.

Initially, the aim was to prove its worth to a fleet of captive vehicles from a customer base of professionals (cabs, delivery drivers, craftsmen, etc.) as well as local authorities using light commercial vehicles in particular.

"Engie and Michelin originally embarked on this project because they realized that hydrogen was going to become a 'game changer' in their business, offering new possibilities for electricity storage and intermittent energy management, as well as a new path towards clean mobility," said Thierry Raevel, Chairman of Hympulsion and Regional Director of Engie.

This industrial and academic alliance (with CEA Liten in particular) is now taking the form of a company that has already installed its first stations in Chambéry and Clermont, which will soon be joined, in 2023, by seven new stations in the cities of Lyon, Grenoble, Clermont-Ferrand, and Moûtiers, a town located at the foot of the Tarentaise stations in the Alps.



"With vehicles that have an average range of 600 km for the Toyotas, for example, these stations will allow cabs, laundry or delivery companies to supply the stations of the Trois Vallées with clean transportation," explains Thierry Raevel.

In charge of building and operating the infrastructures, but also of federating the sector - including the manufacturers who supply the vehicles and the Region, which offers purchasing assistance -,

Hympulsion has already delivered around 50 vehicles. Its clientele is currently composed mainly of professionals (cab companies, craftsmen, heating network companies, water network managers, etc.), with already 480 orders in stock...

"What is interesting about the ZEV project is that it will not focus on a fleet of private vehicles but on captive vehicles, with a clientele ready to jump on the bandwagon more quickly," Anne-Lorène Vernay analyses.

While he is currently working with manufacturers such as Symbio on the local level, as well as Toyota and Hyundai, which are also positioned in this market, Thierry Raevel already has several ambitions: to help mass market the offer of French manufacturers or assemblers in France, by providing them with an order book that is intended to be an incentive, while also developing a complementary offer of buses and household waste collection vehicles, to support the mobility of public transportation unions and local authorities. "While knowing that the next step could be that of heavier mobilities such as trains, boats and even airplanes, on a broader scale," he adds.

For the time being, Hympulsion's first objective is to reach a first ramp-up phase by the end of 2022. Not to mention that by 2023, this project alone should make it possible to cover nearly 25% of the vehicle objectives announced in the national hydrogen plan.


Article by Marie LYAN for La Tribune