Mr Macron said Europe will never have enough renewable energy capacity to produce sufficient green hydrogen and that France’s nuclear plants are a major asset for producing green hydrogen.
Mr Macron made the comments as he unveiled a five-year investment plan on Tuesday aimed at fostering industrial champions and innovation.
“We must wage the battle of innovation and industrialisation at the same time,” the French president told a gathering of business leaders and young entrepreneurs, unveiling plans to invest €30bn to “re-industrialise” the country.
Mr Macron was speaking six months ahead of France’s presidential election, in which he is expected to seek a second five-year term at the Elysée Palace.
Setting out some of the plan’s targets, Mr Macron said France would build a small modular reactor as well as two “megafactories” for the production of green hydrogen – all by the end of the decade.
Nuclear reactors can produce green hydrogen by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. Methods are being explored to use nuclear energy to produce hydrogen from water by electrolysis, thermochemical, and hybrid processes.
The International Energy Agency said recently there are encouraging signs that low-carbon hydrogen production is on the cusp of significant cost declines and widespread global growth. But it called for governments to move faster and more decisively on policy measures to enable hydrogen to fulfil its potential to help the world reach net zero emissions while supporting energy security.
According to the IEA, around 12 demonstration hydrogen projects with a combined electrolyser capacity of 250 MW are exploring using nuclear power for hydrogen production. These projects are in Canada, China, Russia, the UK and the US, but the IEA said that not all will be realised.
In Europe, Brussels-based industry association Foratom said recently the low-carbon production of hydrogen from commercial nuclear power plants could help the bloc reach its climate goals, but the EU needs to put in place the right policy incentives to expand development of the emerging technology.
What Is Green Hydrogen?
Hydrogen production is classified using a colour scheme. “Grey hydrogen” denotes hydrogen produced from fossil fuels. Most of the world’s hydrogen production is grey. However, it is possible to capture the carbon dioxide produced in this process. The carbon can then be sequestered or otherwise used for other purposes. This lowers the carbon footprint and can result in the subsequent hydrogen being classified as “blue hydrogen”. Blue hydrogen is produced using non-renewable resources, but it meets the threshold of a low-carbon footprint. Green hydrogen, such as that produced by nuclear reactors, is considered low-carbon. It can be produced using other technologies. For example, electricity from solar power can be used to electrolyse water into its constituents, hydrogen and oxygen. A 2020 paper in ‘Applied Energy’ estimated the carbon footprint of hydrogen production via a number of different methods, and concluded that hydrogen production via nuclear electricity has a comparable carbon footprint to hydrogen produced by renewables.