Europe is Accelerating Hydrogen Mobility Plans, Says Deloitte

Europe may be behind Asia in the race to make hydrogen powered vehicles a credible alternative to BEVs but it’s catching up fast.

That’s the view of Sebastien Douguet, director economic advisory energy and modelling Deloitte while addressing the panel, How can hydrogen be used for mobility?, at the Autonomy Mobility World Congress 2023 in Paris. Douguet admitted that certain Asian countries have stolen a march in the development of hydrogen powertrains and storage facilities. He said: “I think in Europe it’s a different strategy and a different starting point. So, Asia, particularly Japan and Korea, have been investing for a long time in hydrogen and really focusing on hydrogen for mobility. They have evolved to become leaders in car manufacturers using hydrogen.”

However, Douguet says that is changing rapidly inside the European Union. He explained: “In Europe we made a goal, that is legally binding, to fully decarbonize four years ago. Then there were the hydrogen strategies put in by the member nation states. These strategies have a pragmatic approach in the development of hydrogen. So, what do you do? You start from scratch. You want to become a technological leader not just in cars but in hydrogen production and fuel cells. So, you invest in innovation and in the background systems that the consumer does not see. You invest in ecosystems as we have in Europe right now an ecosystem approach, you invest in production, consumption and also the transportation systems between the two.”


Douguet said this will, initially, become more apparent in mobility-as-a-service (Maas) where economies of scale will tip the balance in favor of hydrogen powertrains. He added: “You prioritize the development of hydrogen in mobility of captive fleets because with captive fleets, like taxis, you have scale. For example, you have 100 vehicles at least that need to be refueled so you can invest in the refueling stations, you can invest in the production because you have a minimum size. If you had just one vehicle, it doesn’t make sense, so it’s the old chicken-and-egg problem. Europe is addressing and investing in that but it’s less visual from the consumer’s point of view.”

Douguet also pointed to hydrogen’s vital role in the creation of ICE burning carbon neutral e-fuels that the EU will now allow beyond the mandated ban of non-zero emission new vehicle sales in 2035. He explained: “Hydrogen is at the base of e-fuels – not directly but indirectly because it is one of the feedstock that goes into the production of e-fuels, as with electricity. Right now, given the state we are in with constant innovation and projects happening in electric in terms of mobility, this change [in regulation] will not have such a big impact.”

BEV versus hydrogen

Douguet conceded that BEVs have won the near-term battle for passenger cars transitioning to zero emission transportation. However, he does not see this as a done deal for all mobility in the medium and long term. He explained: “For light passenger vehicles, electricity is way ahead for now but I wouldn’t close the door to there being some hydrogen in it ,though. However, for captive fleets, the business case is obvious and the more you go into the future and the infrastructure is there and hydrogen is cheap in say 10 years, then it will also make sense for some OEMs to start investing again in light vehicles and, if they are cheap enough, the consumer will follow. We are looking at a future where we have net zero emissions and this future cannot happen without hydrogen because electricity cannot answer everything. Hydrogen will mostly be deployed where there are limits to what electric vehicles can do. For heavy-duty transportation, for example, for buses, delivery trucks, garbage trucks and on construction sites, these are usages where you need power and range and where you need to refuel quickly.


When asked about hydrogen production’s sustainability credentials, Douguet admitted there is some way to go for the industry to claim it is complete ‘clean’ from a climate warming point of view. He said: “Today in Europe, there are about 10M tons of hydrogen produced and consumed every year and this is grey hydrogen, produced mostly from natural gas, and its CO2 goes into the atmosphere and that is bad. So, one of the goals for the hydrogen journey in Europe is to decarbonize that process.

“Then you have all the future uses of hydrogen in other sectors, like mobility. Without question, you can’t use hydrogen in these other sectors if it’s not clean to begin with. Then you have different interpretations of what is clean and what is sustainable? The first option that would be useful during the transition is to use blue hydrogen, which is from using natural gas but you capture the CO2 and store it. Of course, you cannot capture 100% of the CO2 because of leakage but it is sustainable for now. Then green hydrogen is the best, most sustainable option for the long term but, then again, the same is true for electricity production. Is your electricity green today for you to charge your vehicle?”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

One comment

  1. Avatar Dave Rutkowski 5th May 2023 @ 5:46 pm

    Glad to see everyone isn’t in lockstep promoting BEV. I believe Hydrogen is the practical answer most likely using Modular Nuclear Reactors electrolyzing water for the hydrogen.

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