Engie plans to go green via biogas and renewable hydrogen

PARIS (Reuters) - French utility Engie plans to switch all of its gas operations to biogas and renewable hydrogen by 2050, making it 100 percent green, its chief executive said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of French gas and power group Engie is seen on the company tower June 1, 2017 at La Defense business and financial district in Courbevoie near Paris, France. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The power and gas group has some 70 biogas projects worldwide, including 40 in France, and says that if all its projects get approval its annual investment in biogas could soar tenfold to hundreds of millions of euros per year.

Engie, which has sold its fossil gas activities as part of a broader restructuring, is also looking to invest in industrial-scale hydrogen production by electrolyze water in places where solar energy is cheap.

“We will progressively make our gas greener so that by 2050 it can be 100 percent green,” Chief Executive Isabelle Kocher told reporters on Monday.

In May, Engie agreed to sell its oil and gas exploration business for $3.9 billion and last month sold its gas liquefaction, shipping and trading business to Total for $1.5 billion.

The sale included a deal to make Engie Total’s preferred supplier of biogas and renewable hydrogen.

Kocher said the world was focused on decarbonising electricity via renewable energy, but that electricity only accounts for a minor part of total energy demand.

“Most of the energy consumed is for heating, cooling and transport,” she said. “By massively deploying green gas we could decarbonizes all that.”

Engie estimates that biogas from agricultural and other waste - but not using food crops - has the potential to grow from about one percent of gas consumption in France to 10 percent by 2025, 30 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

France has around 400 biogas projects, but it takes too long to get them approved, usually up to two years, compared to six months in neighboring countries, according to Engie’s head of grids, Didier Holleaux.

Engie wants to produce hydrogen gas with solar energy by electrolyze water at a price that would make it more competitive with steam reforming of hydrocarbons, which accounts for 95 percent of hydrogen produced today and costs about 2 euros per kilo, compared to 6 euros/kilo for electrolysis.

The company is looking abroad for gigawatts of solar capacity to produce hydrogen, investments that would likely require billions of euros, Holleaux said.

“In places like Chile’s Atacama desert we could produce hydrogen on industrial scale and hopefully ship it abroad at a competitive price, transport included,” said Kocher. She also said the company was looking to acquire start-ups in hydrogen technology, especially electrolysis.

Engie already has a significant presence in Chile, where it operates power grids, LNG facilities and renewable energy assets.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq. Editing by Jane Merriman