What is “green” hydrogen?

Several technological sectors produce hydrogen. The main one, generally used in the industry, extracts hydrogen from fossil energies such as natural gas, coal and biomass. The second sector
produces hydrogen by water electrolysis. Although this process does not emit any greenhouse gases, it still needs electricity to work. This is why the researchers of the UPPA are exploring a third possibility: the production of “green” hydrogen through artificial synthesis, i.e. purely from light and water. This assuredly sustainable solution is likely to offer an alternative to fossil energies in the longer term.

EnSuITe A technological and societal challenge

The EnSuITe hub brings together researchers from sciences and technologies and researchers in social sciences; their joint work focuseson the energy independence of a territory. An unprecedented approach, full of promise.

Let us picture a territory like a tree. The trunk would represent the motorway, the branches the more minor roads, and the leaves would be the houses. By taking the allegory even further, dwellings would be in charge of producing the energy necessary for the entire territory, just like leaves do when they transform the sun’s energy. This metaphor provides the backdrop for the new thematic hub EnSuITe (bio-inspired Energy Sustainable and Independent Territories) kicked off by the UPPA in 2021.

“EnSuITe is based on the idea that artificial photosynthesis may, one day, enable each inhabitant to store and redistribute the energy s/he will have produced as green hydrogen,” explains Laurent Billon. “Like in a tree, we would all be energetically dependent on one another.”

This visionary project not only requires maturing artificial photosynthesis technologies, but also examining the legal, societal and economic aspects. Developing a renewable, carbon-neutral energy is one thing, but producing green hydrogen and using it as a real and lasting solution is a different challenge altogether – just as essential though – that citizens, economic operators and political players need to take on board. It’s a challenge that can be overcome nonetheless, provided that the competencies and views of the different researchers are combined in a holistic approach. This is the solution chosen by the EnSuITe hub.

Coordinated by the legal expert Louis de Fontenelle and the chemist Laurent Billon, EnSuITe brings together three research laboratories (IPREM, LMAP, TREE) and a mixed service unit (DMEX) of the UPPA, all working on sciences and technologies and social sciences, as well as four international universities (Canada, Spain and Germany). The hub is composed of polymer specialists and mathematicians working alongside legal experts, economists, sociologists and so on. In other words, a real talent pool working towards the energy transition.