French oil major TotalEnergies and industrial gases giant Air Liquide are setting up a 50:50 joint venture to build more than 100 hydrogen filling stations across France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, with a focus on supplying trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles along “major European road corridors”, the companies announced on Thursday.

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“This agreement will lead to the creation of a major player in hydrogen refueling solutions and contribute to the decarbonisation of road transportation in Europe,” they said in a statement.

The companies did not say when the “more than 100” filling stations would be installed.

But the corporations declared that Air Liquide will bring “its mastery of the entire hydrogen value chain” to the as-yet-unnamed venture, while Total will add its expertise in operations and managing fuelling station networks.

The new entity, which will be jointly managed by both companies, “will invest, build and operate these stations, as well as procure hydrogen from the market and dispense it to its transport customers”.

“Hydrogen offers clear benefits for heavy duty mobility. To promote its widespread use, it is imperative to accelerate the development of refueling infrastructures and to offer vehicle manufacturers and transport operators a sufficiently dense network of stations,” said Matthieu Giard, Air Liquide Group vice-president in charge of hydrogen activities. “[That] is precisely the ambition of this joint venture.”

It is notable that the statement does not mention hydrogen cars — and that Shell recently closed all its hydrogen filling stations in the UK, partly because they could not cater to larger vehicles.

While hydrogen-powered cars are more expensive to buy, operate and maintain than their battery-electric equivalents, H2 trucks are said to be more practical than battery equivalents due to their fast-charging times.

For road freight operators, time spent recharging electric trucks would effectively be money wasted, as individual trucks are often on the go around the clock, with different drivers at the wheel.

There are also questions surrounding the ability of electricity grids to cope with surges of power demand at truck stops if several heavy-duty electric vehicles wanted to fast-charge their large batteries at the same time.

According to German consultancy Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik, which has been maintaining a website showing the locations of all hydrogen filling stations around the world since 2005, there were 105 H2 fuelling pumps operating in Germany at the end of 2022, with 44 in France, 17 in the Netherlands, six in Belgium and none in Luxembourg.

The consultancy says that there were 914 hydrogen refuelling stations in operation worldwide at the end of last year, with 254 in Europe, 455 in Asia — 165 in Japan, 149 in South Korea and an estimated 138 in China — and 89 in the US, 70 of which are in California.