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At the CEA in Monts, in Centre-Val de Loire, hydrogen is being considered as an alternative energy source

  • 21 February 2020

The Lavoisier programme, developed by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) at Ripault, in Monts, in the Centre-Val de Loire region, is a set of projects focussing on carbon-free energy sources through hydrogen and electrochemical electricity storage technologies. Projects covering the hydrogen option aim to develop the technological building blocks for producing hydrogen from water vapour, storing gaseous hydrogen in pressurised tanks, and converting this hydrogen into electricity in a fuel cell.

The Lavoisier 2 programme gives us the opportunity to gradually establish the resources necessary for our research to enhance our work and allow for effective support to industrial development in today’s rapidly emerging energy sectors.

Franck Blein, Value Manager at CEA Le Ripault

With the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA) as lead partner, the various projects of the Lavoisier programme bring together key figures in academic research such as the Universities of Tours and Orléans and the National Institute of Applied Sciences (Insa) in Centre-Val de Loire, key players in institutional research such as the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and socio-economic players from the Centre-Val de Loire region.

All of the research partners develop and improve components or elementary building blocks intended to be installed in high-temperature electrolyser-type systems and fuel cells (Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells).

Setting up a research laboratory

To date, the partners have developed ceramic cells for a high-temperature electrolyser, working with state-of-the-art European knowledge (HYTEMPE project). A research laboratory dedicated to development has been set up at the CEA and investments have been made in intermediate-size equipment on a scale of somewhere between that of a laboratory and industry.

The team of the socio-economic partner (SRT Microceramics) has now been trained. For this activity, the partner company recruited two engineers. The CEA has recruited an engineer and a senior technician on fixed-term contracts. One of the contracts was converted to a permanent contract at the end of the fixed-term period, and the other contract is still ongoing. Two post-doctoral contracts have been set up within the partner academic laboratories to study the mechanisms of ageing and to limit its effects. 

An industrialised project

Once produced, the hydrogen must be stored for future use, in particular for future hydrogen vehicles (CALHYPSO project). For this purpose, the CEA is developing composite tanks that have a polymer liner (sealed bladder). The programme covers the entire chain, from design phases, test runs in the design office, choice of materials and their use, to manufacturing 1:1 scale objects that researchers will then be able to test to the limit. These tanks are designed and manufactured to withstand an internal pressure of 700 bar, necessary to give a passenger car sufficient autonomy in a contained space. 

An initial transfer of skills was made to the industrial partner, the Raigi company. The resources available in the CEA research laboratories have been supplemented to gain a better understanding of the behaviour of single materials within a reservoir. The CEA recruited five employees on fixed-term contracts, one of which was converted to a permanent contract at the end of the initial period. The other contracts are still in progress.

Securing systems

Electrochemical storage of electricity is well known today through the many available applications and variations of Li-ion battery technology. Though considerable progress has been made, the safety of these systems remains a major challenge: safety can be managed in different ways, either by working on the chemistry of the batteries or by integrating active devices to secure the battery packs. Unfortunately, accidents can still occur. 

In order to make these systems safe, researchers at the PCM2E laboratory at the University of Tours are working to develop additives such as chemical compounds that can be added to battery electrolytes to limit and delay their flammability. 

Significant advances have been made and the possibility of synthesising these products on an industrial scale has been demonstrated by the partner Axyntis. This research project is hosting a Greek guest researcher through the international exchange capacities set up by the Studium to encourage mutual enrichment.

Total investment and European funding

The ‘Lavoisier phase 2’ project received a total investment of EUR 4 750 076, with the European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 2 375 038 under the ‘OP ERDF for the Centre-Val de Loire Region’ cooperation programme for the 2014-2020 programming period. The investment falls under the ‘Energy and Climate Union’ priority.