France increases research in hydrogen technology with €7 billion investment; new trains ordered

France will intensify research on hydrogen with a €7 billion (£6 billion) project which could ultimately lead to hydrogen-powered vehicles, according to the recently launched Federation de Recherche Hydrogène (FRH).

Around 300 researchers from 28 research institutions belonging to the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) will participate in the five-year project.

Each participating research organisation will have a different role, explained Olivier Joubert, a professor at the University of Nantes and director of FRH. “Research at the CEA focuses on industrial applications while the CNRS focuses on fundamental research. This gives us a broad range of competencies,” he said.

Jacques Maddaluno, director of the CNRS Institute of Chemistry of the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Nantes, France, said that the scientific interest group will act as the go-between for the CNRS and CEA. “It will be a kind of interface with industry,” he commented.

FRH has a number of goals: the production of carbon-free hydrogen or ‘green hydrogen’, its storage and the development of efficient fuel cells with a longer lifespan to power vehicles – which could include trains.

“We will be focusing on producing hydrogen by electrolysis at low temperatures, but also at high temperatures,” Joubert explained. “Our second axis will be hydrogen storage, either as gas or in solids, but also in organic ferrites and organic liquids. Our third axis will be the conversion of hydrogen in either low-temperature or high-temperature fuel cells.”

“One can produce decarbonised hydrogen from surplus energy and heat in nuclear power plants where the energy output of reactors cannot be tuned,” he said.

SNCF orders dual hydrogen trains

The move comes as four regions in France have placed orders for dual powered hydrogen-electric trains, in a bid to significantly cut down on emissions from their rail networks.

The very first orders for dual powered hydrogen-electric trains in France have been placed this week, in what represents a significant advancement in the technology which could revolutionise sustainable transport.

Acting on behalf of the regions of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Grand Est and Occitanie, SNCF has placed an order with manufacturer Alstom for the first 12 dual mode hydrogen-electric trains (plus two optional trainsets) in a contract worth a total of almost €190 million.

Alstom says the four-car, 72m-long Coradia range train has a total capacity of 218 seats and the same dynamic performance and level of comfort as the dual mode electric-diesel version.

“France has everything it needs to become a hydrogen champion: the French government is fully committed to turning this ambition into reality,” said Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, minister delegate for transport at the French Ministry for Ecological Transition.

“We will be covering 47 million euros of development costs for France’s first regional hydrogen-powered train. I am delighted that this support has enabled the four partner regions to confirm their order for the first 14 trains.”