Interview with Daniel Kern, CCI Technical Advisor Mobility Transport & Energies
Interview with Daniel Kern, CCI Technical Advisor - Mobility and Transport of the Future § Energies, Retired Professor.
During the interview, he shares his forecast for the development of hydrogen and renewable energies in France, compares the energy mix of different European countries and the challenges faced for this development within different investments offered by the EU and Governments as well as the timelines for these developments. Finally, what will be the main challenge to integrate hydrogen and other renewables into our current grids and systems.
Watch the interview (in French) by clicking this button or read the English transcript below.
If you're interested in this topic, you might be interested in watching this episode - Spotlight on France "Renewable energies and the challenge of grid integration".
Eva Hureau (EH) - Welcome to a new interview of Enlit Europe. My name is Eva Hureau and I am Country Manager for France at Enlit Europe. This episode is pretty special because it will be part of our zoom on France and we're going to dive into the hydrogen sector in France and briefly compare it to the rest of Europe. I'm with Mr. Daniel Kern, technical advisor CCI mobility & transport of the future and energy and a retired professor. Thank you for joining me on this platform.
I'm going to dive into the first question. You have a distinguished university career in the design of electric cars on battery power, but you've been concentrating on hydrogen fuel cells for the past few years. Why is there an incident that's changed? Did that change your mind? Or is it a slow realisation of the potential of hydrogen to power the vehicles?
Daniel Kern (DK) - Hello! Good morning, everyone. Simply put, I'm going to correct the presentation a little bit. I just teach mechanical engineering. In my profession, I've been brought to gain interest specially in the training of students, and we have developed with colleagues the realisation from A to Z (draw, machining, assembly and realisation) of cars at scale one tenth, first of all electric and then to hydrogen.
With the cars, we were racing, which was a little bit of a copy. I mean, a copy's not going to say "copy" because they're not going to be happy. But let's just say that we've had a lot of based on what the creators were doing of the “24 Hours of Le Mans” and we realised a model car. A 24-hour race that we call, in fact, the 24 hours of Saint-Jo, which is a replica of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, turned on hydrogen-powered cars.
Well, that's kind of the way I got into hydrogen about 15 years ago. To make things right, why I became more interested especially in hydrogen? Since I was ten years old, I'm told every 20 years there'll be no more petrol, there will be no more fossil fuels. Well, I'm almost 70. And then they always tell me the same thing. So that means there's still some. But sooner or later, yes, they're going to run out or it's going to be a lot less. Well, then… what will become of us? That's the real question.
Personally, I think it's best to see new energy is coming on the market than to see them disappear. What got me interested in hydrogen is to maintain an energy independence or try to find one for France as well as for the countries in Europe that do not have clean energy. So, these are the things that really made me take an interest in energies in general and hydrogen in particular.
EH - Well, obviously, the subject of hydrogen, the whole area, is a pretty hot topic. There's a lot of talk about it all over the place right now and you're obviously an advocate for this sector. What do you think is the important role clean hydrogen has to play within the industry?
DK – It's not going to play a role only in the industry. First, to put things in context, hydrogen is presented as a new energy, revolutionary, young… that's not quite the case because the fuel cell has been, say, discovered, at least the principle, by William Grove in 1839. I think and there's a Frenchman named Étienne Lenoir, who has made a first car which was called at the time horse-drawn carriage because it looked a bit like pulling horses back then, which, in the 1880s, went nine kilometers with a thermal car four-stroke hydrogen between Paris and Joinville le Pont. So you see, as well in the mobility than in the fuel cell, we're not talking about revolutionary technologies, they've been around for a long time, a very long time.
So, there's a history of evolution of the hydrogen that was made. There have been better times, of the less fortunate periods. The oil shock of the 1970s has re-launched hydrogen in mobility. And then the raise. And then it went back and so on and so forth. Which boosts considerably hydrogen at the moment, and as you say, hydrogen is on the rise, is just renewable energies.
So, we want a decarbonisation or decarbonise our energies, we want to decarbonise for the climate, remove CO2, etc. There's a whole industry of renewable energies that's falling into place. In evolutionary terms, in the early 2000s we said it would be impossible that renewable energy is coming, produce electricity at the nuclear rate. Well, we're here now and we're producing energy at the nuclear rate, or even less. So to say that nothing is impossible it's all a question of will and strategy and to want to know exactly what we want. So, right now, we want clean hydrogen, as you call it. This clean hydrogen has to be produced and it’s not easy to produce. So, there are different technologies and many challenges to get that clean energy; we need to put things in perspective. Currently, in electricity, there are 7,200 gigawatts that are produced in the world per year, which is considerable, so, when you want to replace that electricity produced by various sources by hydrogen, we're going to need to make a lot of electrolysers. Which is not the case at the moment.
Some days, there are a lot of challenges and I believe in the great fossil fuels. Basically, there are 3 billion tons of oil consumed per year. To put things a bit in perspective in relation to what is consumed. Then maybe the best solution is first to start by reducing our consumptions and modify our system of life. We're here consuming energy, but there may also be another thing to see clean energy. It's a big gamble. There are many technological challenges to be raised and then costs to be lowered. That's the main thing. Achieving clean hydrogen costs competitive with hydrogen which is gray, with "dirty" in brackets. And also in relation to what's currently being offered, fossil fuels, natural gas and oil. And in terms of timing, the big decarbonisation objective is 2050.
EH: What do you think about the course for the next 30 years? What will the full-scale deployment look like? What is the scale of hydrogen in Europe? What applications do you see to be deployed first to last?
DK: In 2050, I won’t be among us anymore. So we're going to stay at 2030. Well, you're 35 years old, it's when it's complicated by 30, 50 years. It's complicated to predict the future just like that because things evolve very quickly. Technologies can evolve very quickly. 30 years is close and at the same time it's a long way. When I first became interested in hydrogen, to make the first lectures or invite people to roundtables 15 years ago, the experts at the time said "it’s impossible to build an hydrogen truck", "an hydrogen airplane" made you smile. In roundtable discussions, I was taken for a nice, passionate guy and now, 15 years later, they call me an expert. You see the difference? I haven't changed, but it's the environment that's changed, people's vision. And this is very important, because for this energy transformation we're going to need to have societal acceptance. And that's a long shot. And I think in France, for example, we're way behind on offshore wind. We can discuss if it’s right or wrong. I don't know, but to install this offshore wind is going to be complicated because there's strong societal resistance. France has also a major nuclear park, one of the most important in the world. Again, there's a great deal of discussion and a big question to have. And the damage of seeing that nuclear policy in France currently has been managed in a manner that you regenerate from one stop-and-go by function of the presidential elections. This is not good as it is a long-term industry and we're not based on one of these, the other overbidding, etc. Let's stop, let's go. We're hitchhiking all the time. That's a little bit 30 years from now. Hydrogen will attack all major sectors, in industry, transportation, the big consumers, agriculture, about which is little said, but also the heating.
I think we're going to attack first or where it's easiest and where the gains are going to be the most important, so the steel production industry. We see that some large steel corporations like Arcelor Mittal, Siemens, etc., are evolving very strongly at this level, have ambitious plans in China as well.
Next, on transport, it's high-profile, so it's pretty clear that there's a struggle that's being waged entirely between the battery-powered car and the fuel cell car. But the future may not be everything. We made it there for the private car, but you can see the evolution that's taking place in heavier transports since now, roughly speaking, in simple terms, that the heavier it gets, the more relevant hydrogen is; but 15 years ago they were saying the opposite. So, we can see the developments that are taking place both in trucks, in buses, in trains, on ships and most difficult for aviation.
And in agriculture it’s useful to manufacture fertilisers, etc., as in heating it can also be very important.
So, we're going to have to produce hydrogen. We're goin to have to transport it. So right now, we're finding out also that the production is going to be discussed in the future in the different plans European countries are setting up. We'll come back to that then; the production in Europe is going to happen, but it’s also going to get here via foreign countries.
EH: Last July, we saw the launch of the EU Hydrogen Strategy. Then we saw as well the ambitious strategy by the French government in September. What's your opinion on both strategies? And how important will it be hydrogen in the French energy mix in the next 10, 20, 30 years?
DK: Let's just say it's for me, not for everyone who's a little militant for hydrogen, although I am also an activist for other energies, that I'm not closed, not at all. But then again, you also have to give hydrogen a chance. I have a crush on it.
We saw Germany coming with a lot of money. I think it's going to be $9 billion plus $2 billion, or roughly €11 billion. Amounts that will be very, very important. France with €7 billion. So these are numbers. Portugal too, and Spain, but also the countries of the North, etc.
Numbers are very important and with it, as you rightly say, some strategies that may be different. And these strategies are different depending on the energy mix that exists at home and resources that they have.
I'm very satisfied that France has put €7 billion in. Now, will they really be there or is this going to be a publicity stunt? And then we're going to tell “oh well, no” and so on. So we've already had the experience of the Hulot plan in 2002. I believe he was offering €100 million over five years, so €500 million, which has been reduced to €100 million. And out of the €100 million, about 80% of it was donated. So, you see already. Well, let's say we're going to get €7 billion. So that is the French strategy, strongly marked by nuclear power. The German strategy, on the other hand, is a strategy to get out of nuclear power, which is very different with an industry power generation that was strongly based on coal and gas. So they do. They're going nuclear, and actually do it. They're more strongly committed than we are on renewable energies. So, being more strongly committed on renewable energies, these energies cause what we call intermittency. And you have to compensate this intermittency. There aren't 500 solutions to offset intermittency, and they've basically opted for hydrogen. To compensate storage energy from hydrogen. Naturally, the quantities of hydrogen to be produced are very, very important and according to the German plan, they say they won't be able to produce hydrogen entirely on the German ground, so they will have to also produce some outside of Germany, in Europe and out of Europe. And we've seen strategies that get in place with Morocco, for example, or with other Gulf countries to produce this hydrogen in these countries and import it to Europe via existing pipeline systems, and so on.
See from further afield, even from Australia, which is now becoming a country or wants to produce clean hydrogen with brown coal.
What's seems a little complicated too t because carbon storage, we also talk a lot about the moments and it's still complicated. And it also raises the prices even more. But it's very clear that this strategy is being put in place. You can see very well too. What's important is that the countries that were oil and gas producers are also changing their strategy and are particularly interested in hydrogen, because they want to keep the energy monopoly and the energy jackpot. There's still a lot of money to gain in energy, so this is a strategy that's being put in place and that's going to happen.
It can be strongly questionable, especially what's going to happen in the Republic of Congo with a creation of a huge dam to supply German hydrogen, etc. So, there will also be a lot of bad things. It's not just that there's no telling, we're sure, but that's not because that we're against it not happening. We can fight it, but these strategies are being put in place. For example, I have been contacted very strongly 3/4 years ago by people in Australia and I now realise that Australia has a real policy around hydrogen. This policy, it's kind of the same for Japan, which is a country that wants to install the hydrogen society and that will also bring its hydrogen.
There's a whole import sector of hydrogen that's coming into place. How are we going to import this hydrogen? That's a real question. How's it going to get there? It's a real question and some things are already being done. We see for example pipelines in Europe that transported gas that will be converted to hydrogen. It also poses technologic difficulties. It's not done by snapping a finger, but these are technologies that set up and also a consumption hydrogen via a mixture with natural gas. There are already demonstrators in France. Functional on this principle and an ATO in Europe that operates on that principle. And it's a solution to use hydrogen that will put in place very quickly as well. The natural gas-hydrogen mixture hoping to go up to 20%. Currently in France, it's only 6% that's allowed.
EH: You actually answered my last question, which was to make a comparison.
DK: I've done both, but the rest of Europe I would roughly distinguish into three parts.
There are the Nordic countries, which have an all-energy mix which is quite different from ours, and are more evolved in the societal aspect that we on the energy transformation, but they, too, produce a lot of fossil energy. Norway still gets represented as a virtuous country, but you should know that Norway is a very large oil and gas producer. Still, it's a lot of possibilities that are offered.
Then there's a country that's a little peculiar, like The Netherlands, which is a major gas producer, and France, for example, imports a lot of gas from The Netherlands. It's even the first gas importer to France.
Russia is often thought to stop its gas production. And that stopped, it's getting smaller, considerably at the moment. I think by 2024 it will be over. So, they want to replace this money that came in through natural gas. And they're developing hydrogen with a very, very important called NOx H 2 with Shell being a Dutch oil tanker, etc. And they already have the pipelines that are installed, so they're going to try to send this hydrogen to Germany, etc.
There's Germany. Which is more oriented like The Netherlands and the Northern countries, wanting to eliminate nuclear. We (France), who have a lot and the countries of the South, which are very strong on solar and wind power, like Portugal and Spain, so with strategies that will be a little different. We're a little bit in between (France). We'd like to develop our wind turbine offshore, but we are very delayed. But it's going to happen. Let’s see how it's going to be accepted socially, how it’s going to make real progress. On solar, we were late, so you always have to compensate. When we start late, it's always more complicated and it's getting harder and harder. But we have our nuclear power. It's for both of us, I think, for hydrogen, an asset and also a difficulty since this nuclear power is good. I don't think it's been able to evolve pretty quickly. We're waiting for the third and fourth power plant generation, which can be much more suitable for hydrogen production. We're not talking about clean green energy. In this case, we're talking about decarbonised energy, which isn't quite the same thing. There was a fight at the European Commission to find out whether or not to go nuclear in clean energy. There was an arrangement that came up made on the term decarbonated. So, actually, much of the hydrogen that is used in France for example for hydrogen bus companies, etc., it's decarbonated hydrogen. French policy would dictate or many of us would like for us to be able to produce our energy locally to have less effort to transport it, have less transport costs, etc. Maybe it'll get done, maybe it won't. I don't know. We need to review the investments. How can we do that? How are they going to happen? And the changes it will take. Actually, it's a big battle being made.
EH: I have one last question, a little bit improvised, how do you think is the real challenge of the integration of all these different renewable energies, hydrogen in the gas pipelines, etc. What's the challenge?
DK: The challenge is already technological because there are a lot of technological challenges to be met. There are also the developments that will take place, for example, since you're talking about this, but I'm not talking about the car for the individual. There has to be an evolution technology that's being done. In the private car, for me, private cars with hydrogen tank at 700 bars, etc. Either this works or this isn't the future. We have to be able to produce directly the hydrogen in the car. It's already there, it's going to evolve, and so on.
If we talk hydrogen in the gas pipelines, there are projects that are currently, actually more than projects and accomplishments that are in place between France and Germany, between Germany and Holland, etc. And it's going to grow with solutions technologies that are also being developed. To rehabilitate these pipelines, which transported natural gas for transporting hydrogen, we'll have to see in time if it's okay. If it's going to hold, the pressures we're going to use, and so on. There are still challenges here too to be taken up because hydrogen, whatever technological developments there are, will always remain a complicated gas.
Security will be paramount. If security is not assured, then the future hydrogen will not be assured. So, you absolutely must not let your guard down with hydrogen, as it also leads to a lot of materials research of research and development. That's also something that needs to be absolutely developed in France around hydrogen. A lot of research and development, industrialisation, marketing, training (which is not also currently being developed in our schools), All around hydrogen.
EH: Thank you very much for this interview. This will be an introduction for our Spotlight on France programme, as part of our Spotlight on Countries series, featuring countries that are very present at Enlit Europe and that obviously includes France. This interview will give us the introduction tou our France focused programme, so thank you.