French supermajor Total and utility Engie have sealed a co-operation deal to build and operate France’s largest site to produce green hydrogen using renewable energy.

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The facility at Total’s La Mede biorefinery in southern France plans to use the electricity from several solar farms with a combined capacity of more than 100 megawatts to power a 40MW electrolyser that initially will churn out five tonnes per day of so-called green hydrogen produced using renewables.

The hydrogen is expected to meet the needs of the biofuel production process at Total’s biorefinery, avoiding 15,000 tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide emissions.

“This renewable hydrogen production facility, combined with our expertise in solar energy, is a further step in our commitment to get to net zero by 2050,” said Total's gas, renewables and power president Philippe Sauquet.

“The association of two leading French energy companies will make it possible to develop the hydrogen sector and become its leaders thanks to this joint, industrial and internationally reproducible project.”

Renewable diesel

Total said it intends to use part of the green hydrogen for industrial clients, and part for the production of renewable diesel, without further specifying which other raw materials it wants to use for that process.

Renewable diesel commonly is made of non-petroleum resources such as natural fats, vegetable oils, and greases, which are subsequently processed through hydrogenation. It therefore does not contain oxygen, and burns cleaner than biodiesel (made from vegetable oils in a chemical process using certain alcohols) in combustion engines.

The companies plan to start construction of the facilities in 2022, after completing an advanced engineering study, and estimate production to begin in 2024. The project has already applied for subsidies from French and European Union authorities.

15 tonnes of green hydrogen

After a first phase, new renewable plants may be developed for the plant to boost its output to up to 15 tonnes per day of green hydrogen.

“The partnership between Engie and Total, by its scale and its very ambitious integrated approach, embodies Engie’s renewable hydrogen development strategy to reduce our clients' CO2 footprint,” said Gwenaelle Avice-Huet, Engie’s executive vice president in charge of renewable energies.

“It also paves the way for a multi-usage renewable hydrogen hub in the near future, strongly rooted in the region and with an international outreach."

To manage the intermittent production of solar power and the biorefinery’s need for continuous hydrogen supply, the site will also include large-scale hydrogen storage.

Total as well as green hydrogen is betting on the production of so-called ‘blue hydrogen’, which is made using natural gas linked to carbon capture and storage (CCS). Blue hydrogen still emits some CO2 and therefore is considered low-carbon instead of carbon-free.

Engie is also engaged in other ambitious green hydrogen projects. The utility only yesterday announced plans together with French developer Neoen to build a giant, 1 gigawatt solar farm near Bordeaux that would be linked to green hydrogen production, battery storage and a data centre.