Hydrogen Central – Interview with Gerardo Familiar, Head of Chemours Hydrogen Economy Venture

Mar 15, 2023 9:10 AM ET

Originally published by Hydrogen Central on hydrogen-central.com

Hydrogen Central – Interview with Gerardo Familiar, Head of Chemours Hydrogen Economy Venture

Gerardo Familiar is responsible for developing the business strategy, executing the growth plan, and enhancing the organizational capabilities of Chemours’ Global Hydrogen Economy Venture. Prior to that, he was the Senior Director of Global Strategy, Marketing and Regulatory for the Thermal Specialized Solutions (TSS) at Chemours. Mr. Familiar holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico, a Masters of Business Administration from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de Mexico-ITAM, and an Executive Development Training from the Wharton School. He served as Executive Board Member of the National Chemical Industry Association (ANIQ), United Way Mexico, and the International Chamber of Commerce Mexico (ICC).

  1. Can you explain how green hydrogen can support decarbonizing energy-intensive parts of the economy?

Generally, green hydrogen becomes essential to reach net-zero emissions, and it directly plays into achieving the ambitious goals of future-oriented policy programs such as the BuildBackBetter program and the EU Green Deal. Hydrogen’s reliability and energy density allow for diverse applications in countless industries, gradually phasing out the use of fossil fuels such as coal and gas.

This is a huge advantage particularly in energy-intensive sectors such as steel. Also, the basic materials industry is another good example, as it already uses a lot of grey hydrogen. Moving forward, however, it must obviously aim for a fast transition to green hydrogen. Here, it becomes crucial to minimize regulatory hurdles for technological solutions that help further expand the infrastructure for both hydrogen as well as renewable energies.

  1. How do EU citizens benefit from the introduction of green hydrogen to the EU? 

Currently, economies and societies worldwide and particularly in the EU are hamstrung by high energy costs and inflation rates. Governments are trying to cut high-stake dependencies on fossil fuel imports, in particular natural gas, while also delivering against ambitious climate goals. Investors fear a recession.

And ultimately, citizens feel these economic pressures in their everyday life. While it is not the sole solution to get out of this situation, I do believe that hydrogen is an important part of the puzzle, and especially in the EU hydrogen will help to make societies and the economy future-proof.

The EU has already acknowledged this and with REPowerEU, has set the target to produce 25 million tons of green hydrogen by 2030. No doubt, this is ambitious, but I believe it is the best way forward. If the EU follows through with its ambitious hydrogen strategy and establishes an integrated infrastructure, it will reinforce its reputation as an innovation and industry hub, thereby attracting further talent, business and investments.

At the same time, increasing hydrogen production capacities and expanding the hydrogen infrastructure will help to reduce the EU’s dependencies on fossil fuels and safeguard a diversified, sustainable energy supply. Not least, it will help to implement economies of scale, which in turn will back European industries and production facilities. In short, the expansion of green hydrogen will boost the EU economy on many different levels, ultimately generating relief for EU citizens.

  1. As a manufacturer of chemistries, why and how is Chemours’ relevant to the hydrogen industry?

Here at Chemours, we’re focused on the “why” around our solutions – how they can solve problems to create a cleaner and more connected world. Although perhaps not obvious at the first glance, our chemistry has a positive impact on almost every part of the world around us- not only in the hydrogen economy and infrastructure but also on 5G, lithium-ion batteries, automotive, electronics, construction, energy, semiconductor, paints, plastics, and communications.

Chemours’ chemistry and advanced materials are crucial for enabling a sustainable economy and helping to achieve the ambitious goals of the EU Green Deal, which also includes supporting the energy transition and allowing for a robust and sustainable hydrogen infrastructure. Our ion exchange membranes – marketed as Nafion™ membranes – are essential for a variety of hydrogen applications: They enable hydrogen use in fuel cells in the transportation industry and allow for efficient energy storage in flow batteries.

And most importantly, these membranes are used to produce green hydrogen safely and efficiently via PEM water electrolysis in large quantities, thus helping to decarbonize the hydrogen production industry. This is an essential step for the clean energy transition, which gains even more importance in view of the latest geopolitical developments and energy challenges.

Personally, it is very exciting to work so closely on solutions for one of the greatest challenges of mankind. And I am convinced: By unleashing the power of chemistry, companies, industries, and countries will be able to not only to meet their carbon reduction goals but also to advance sustainable innovations.

  1. Due to the global energy crisis and political guard rails attention to alternative energy sources such as hydrogen has increased significantly. Do you also notice growing demand for your products?

Absolutely. Current developments have once again raised awareness globally of the need for a green energy transition: The accelerated climate ambitions and current energy challenges in the EU have fast-tracked attention and demand for clean energy solutions such as hydrogen power and fuel cell technology. After all, the attention is not just political talk; there are already significant movements in the economy to build up forward-looking applications for green hydrogen. As part of the hydrogen economy, we naturally feel and respond to this increased demand.

  1. While demand for clean hydrogen technology is significantly growing, there are concerns about the scalability of hydrogen and whether the supply side can keep up. What is Chemours doing to accelerate hydrogen deployment? 

Truth is that upscaling the production is one of the biggest potential bottlenecks for ramping up the hydrogen market. This production increase in turn is also based on a massive expansion of renewable energy capacities. In my view, strategic investments along the whole value chain are key to preventing a long-term production slowdown. Chemours has already taken important steps to push the scalability of our operations: We recently announced a planned 200-million-dollar investment which will allow us to expand capacity and advance technology for our Nafion™ ion exchange materials.

In Europe, for example, we have agreed to enter a joint venture, which will create urgently needed production capacity for the further market ramp-up of fuel cells and humidifier membranes for the transportation industry. At the heart of this partnership will be Chemours’ innovative Nafion™ ion exchange materials and technologies, which will be integrated with complementary resources offered by both companies to accelerate speed to market. Completion of the transaction is currently subject to customary regulatory approvals. Partnerships as such will be key for accelerating hydrogen deployment in the mobility sector.

With these significant investments and partnerships, Chemours is well positioned to enable and benefit from further growth of the hydrogen economy.

  1. In which applications of the hydrogen industry do you see the greatest potential for growth? What are you focusing on? 

Given the global energy crisis in Europe and the extraordinary increasing demand for sustainable energy solutions due to climate change, green hydrogen generation through PEM (polymer electrolyte membrane) water electrolyzers will play a crucial role in future. We already see a growing demand in the PEM technology sector.

Chemours is well positioned to benefit from this growth potential. Our Nafion™ membrane and dispersion products are at the heart of hydrogen generation in PEM water electrolyzers. We invented the ion exchange membrane more than 50 years ago and over the years, built expertise not only in producing the basic ingredients that are used to produce Nafion™ membranes but also along the whole value chain of manufacturing.

Another focus of our growth strategy is the mobility sector. The automotive industry is already changing fundamentally. The role of hydrogen as fuel, particularly in heavy duty transportation, will increase. Therefore, we continue investing in fuel cell applications in Europe, aiming at accelerating the speed to market of fuel cells with high performance membranes.

  1. What do you see as the biggest challenges on the way to the needed upscaling of hydrogen production?

When talking about upscaling of hydrogen production it’s important to take the whole value chain into account: before an electrolyzer produces green hydrogen, there is a long way down the production road with an entire network of different players, critical raw materials and processes, which all have impact onto the production volume. Therefore, collaboration with all players within the value chain is key. This requires creativity and pragmatism from all involved to scale up the needed volumes, create innovative solutions and to master challenges that may arise.

Also, the prevailing circumstances affect any upscaling ambitions: Even though hydrogen production and applications already have strong policy support such as through the EU hydrogen strategy there are also regulatory challenges along the value chain that could slow down industries’ innovative capabilities. In addition to this, there is a need to expand renewable energy capacities.

  1. In how far do regulatory aspects play a role in expansion of the hydrogen economy?

If you allow, I would like to give an example. Without ion exchange membranes, the emission-neutral production of hydrogen is not achievable in the near future. Essential components for the production of those membranes are fluoropolymers. These are specialized, high performance plastics with a unique combination of properties that no other material has. This makes them vital across a wide spectrum of industries, including clean energy. In many of the most critical applications, there are no viable alternatives.

Chemours supports industry-wide government regulation that is grounded in the best available science. However, there is a motion in the European Union by five member states that contemplates restricting all per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as one group. This broad approach would include thousands of different substances that have very different physical and chemical properties, health, and environmental profiles, uses, and benefits – including the sub-category of fluoropolymers which are safe for their intended uses. Attempting to regulate a broad group of chemical compounds in a general manner would contradict the current approach of an effective, science-based assessment of this group of substances, especially taking into account their socio-economic values.

Such a broad restriction could affect hydrogen production dramatically, because: No fluoropolymers, no ion exchange membranes, no electrolyzers or fuel cells. This would also mean that the restriction could challenge the realization of ambitious policy programs such as the European Green Deal and REPowerEU.

I think this presentation of the crucial role of fluoropolymers makes it clear how important it is to take a holistic view of policymaking with regard to hydrogen, taking the whole value chain into consideration. Navigating through complex interdependencies like this will be one of the major challenges moving forward when upscaling hydrogen production.

  1. The chemical sector as a whole is under constant pressure to justify itself. To what extent do you ensure the sustainability of your own production?

The world increasingly expects companies to provide essential products responsibly. At Chemours, we share those expectations, and we are committed to manufacturing our products responsibly. Our commitment to responsible manufacturing means we have proper emissions controls in place, utilizing the best available technology that mitigates environmental emissions.

In fact, our sustainability goals and Corporate Responsibility Commitments (CRC) are part of our DNA as a company. They are not only the right thing to do, but we see them as essential to our long-term growth and success as a company. Back in 2018, Chemours announced ambitious CRC goals that include an absolute 60% reduction in operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 on a journey to achieving net zero by 2050. Similarly, we have committed ourselves to reducing emissions of fluorinated organic compounds by at least 99% by 2030, and we have made meaningful progress, as noted in our recent report.

Chemours has and continues to implement and advance state-of-the-art technologies to reduce emissions of fluorinated organic compounds at our manufacturing sites as part of our commitment to responsible manufacturing. Chemours devotes millions of dollars a year to sustainable investments, including deploying emissions control technologies at manufacturing sites; pursuing energy efficiency; and integrating renewables in a broader, deeper way across all our locations.

  1. What will it take in the future for the hydrogen economy to continue to grow?

The future growth of the global hydrogen market requires science and collaboration between people and organizations working together toward a shared purpose: Upscaling of hydrogen production and solutions to reach the world’s ambitious climate goals.

Strategic investments across the whole hydrogen value chain will be essential for future growth – from research and development all the way to end-use.

We actively build and strengthen stakeholder relations in the value chain. We collaborate with academia, equipment manufacturers, and project owners to gather insights and stay on the front edge of innovation. This is a big part of developing leading-edge solutions to solve the correct problems for the industry and our customers.

We also advocate for clean hydrogen and a policy landscape that enables this. The hydrogen economy relies on a conducive policy environment to enable the Green Deal and which ensures that all parts of the regulatory landscape are cohesive. Therefore, we engage with regulators and policymakers – we are an active member of Hydrogen Europe, the Hydrogen Council, and the Renewable Hydrogen Coalition, building a strong presence in Europe and supporting the regional energy transition along the goals of the EU Green Deal.

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