Talk of hydrogen as the fuel of the future goes back to the 19th century. Its promise is starting to be realised thanks to falling costs and its scope for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. A French hydrogen refuelling company’s initial public offering is the latest sign of enthusiasm for green energy companies.
Hydrogen Refuelling Solutions (HRS) is tiny, for now. The business, founded in 2004, is raising €70m on Euronext Growth Paris, valuing it at about €360m. Its market is so immature that the 32 stations it has installed in Europe account for 17 per cent of the total.
Asia is well ahead. Japan and South Korea were early supporters of fuel cell technology. The Chinese government plans more than 1,000 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2030. But Europe, too, has big ambitions to deploy hydrogen technology, with the EU earmarking €35bn in support this decade. HRS expects hydrogen refuelling stations in Europe to expand from 185 to 3,700 by 2030, and then on to 15,000 by 2040.
It is not alone in anticipating a big shift. The US Department of Energy has estimated that thousands of these pumps will be needed by 2035. If the “hydrogen highway” concept takes off there could be as many as 20,000 refuelling stations globally over the next 15 years, thinks Bernstein. Capital expenditure of between $20bn and $100bn would be required.
There is plenty of competition. Industrial gas companies such as Linde, Air Liquide and Air Products have opened hundreds of fuel stations around the world. Sellers of conventional transport fuels are also testing the market. In 2017 Shell launched its first hydrogen refuelling station in the UK, at Cobham service station on the M25.
There is hope for specialists. Norwegian hydrogen group Nel has more than 110 stations either sold or under construction in 13 countries. Its market value has risen by nearly 20 times to €4.6bn in five years. Investors in HRS will hope for a similar lighter-than-air stock performance.
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