Scaling up production at Helion Hydrogen Power by Alstom

Scaling up production at Helion Hydrogen Power by Alstom
Vincent Mahéo, President of Helion Hydrogen Power
11 January 2023 / Eco-industries, Energy, Grow your business

A strategic step to increase capacity and conquer new markets

With a team that has doubled in size in the last 18 months and is still growing, Helion Hydrogen Power is in full expansion mode. After being acquired in 2021 by Alstom, the world’s leading rail company, the Aix-en-Provence-based hydrogen technology leader has now begun its industrialization phase and is preparing to produce high-powered, 6th-generation fuel cells. Thanks to its cutting-edge hydrogen technology, which is the result of a cumulative R&D investment of €100 million over 20 years, Helion Hydrogen Power by Alstom is now aiming to serve the entire transport sector, from heavy transport to lighter vehicles, and to equip key infrastructure such as airports and ports. This is a major step towards achieving net zero CO2 emissions in the future.

Helion Hydrogen Power has been committed to hydrogen innovation for 22 years and is a global pioneer in the field. The company was created by the French nuclear submarine company TechnicAtome in 2001 and then became part of the French multinational Areva in 2006 before being acquired by Alstom in April 2021. With a team that includes high-level scientists (10% of whom hold PhDs in hydrogen-related fields) and engineers, Helion Hydrogen Power has developed a wealth of experience and expertise that is recognized worldwide. These advantages attracted the attention of Alstom, whose mission is to expand its role in the zero-emissions transportation market.

Founded in 2001 at the Technopôle de l’Environnement Arbois-Méditerranée environmental technology hub in Aix-en-Provence, Helion Hydrogen Power is the oldest manufacturer and designer of hydrogen fuel cells in France. Its technology uses the chemical energy of hydrogen as a vector for producing electricity. Designed as a fuel cell that runs on hydrogen and ambient air, the system emits no pollution or CO2 emissions. Furthermore, the electrolysis of water at the beginning of the process creates green hydrogen that refills a storage tank in just a few minutes, compared to the several hours that are required to recharge with batteries.

Numerous applications for this revolutionary green technology

“These fuel cells are extremely well adapted to situations that require a lot of power, especially heavy-duty mobility and transport,” explains Vincent Mahéo, who has served as the president of Helion Hydrogen Power since the company’s acquisition by Alstom.

Alstom has big ambitions for its new subsidiary in both commercial transportation operations (rail, maritime, and off-highway vehicles) and stationary power systems for large infrastructure such as ports, airports, and data centers. In 2018, the group tested the first commercial passenger train running entirely on hydrogen in Germany, and a line near Hamburg will start operating exclusively with hydrogen-powered trains. Alstom is now preparing an order for 12 local trains for four regions in France.

“In the south of France, we will be equipping a marine dredger for the first time, which will be used at the ports of Sète, Port-la-Nouvelle, and Le Grau-du-Roi. Once it is commissioned in 2023, and thanks to our dual RINA and Bureau Veritas marine certification, we will be the world’s second leading actor in this market. In 2022, we also delivered a system for the EcobioH2 data center in Avignon, the first completely carbon-free demonstrator model,” says Vincent Mahéo, who is hoping for a boost from investors so that the company can equip more trains, boats, trucks, and buildings.

A 6th generation of fuel cells produced in Aix-en-Provence

“The acquisition of Helion Hydrogen Power is enabling the group to maintain its head start in technology by building on its expertise in France and Provence. It also gives us access to the key technological elements needed to bring a 6th-generation fuel cell to market,” says Vincent Mahéo.

The group began by investing more than €6 million in a semi-automated manufacturing platform to produce fuel cell systems in Aix-en-Provence in December 2021. Its objective is to continue to expand production to manufacture enough fuel cells to generate 30 megawatts a year by 2024 thanks to a fully automated installation on a new site currently under construction in the Plan d’Aillane industrial zone in Aix-en-Provence. The number of employees at the company, which has already doubled from 40 to 80, is expected to increase further to 120.

“We want to offer the best product for each specific usage, to create synergies between sectors that depend on high power, and to maximize the lifespan of fuel cells to reduce our customers’ operating costs,” explains Vincent Mahéo, who indicates that 6th-generation fuel cells should have a minimum lifespan of 25,000 hours.

Deploying green hydrogen technologies is essential

Most of the global hydrogen investments are currently focused on the production of green hydrogen from electrolysis, but Vincent Mahéo believes that it is essential to develop the market for hydrogen now to avoid an eventual supply shock in 2025.

“Aix-Marseille is fortunate to be home to a range of leading companies as well as both low- and high-power hydrogen fuel cell technologies. This is a unique asset that France must take advantage of by building ecosystems for both hydrogen production and use. We are collaborating with ENOGIA and HySiLabs on R&D, but we are also constantly working to demonstrate end uses, as we did with CMA CGM by adapting our fuel cell system for a demo project that provides a continuous power supply to refrigerated containers,” says Vincent Mahéo, who adds that the Aix-Marseille-Provence territory is one of the most attractive hydrogen clusters in France.