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An interview with Gerardo Familiar, Chemours’ Head of Hydrogen Economy Venture


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

Gerardo Familiar is in charge of developing the business strategy, executing the growth plan, and strengthening Chemours' Global Hydrogen Economy Venture's organisational capabilities. He was previously the Senior Director of Global Strategy, Marketing, and Regulatory for Chemours' Thermal Specialized Solutions (TSS). Mr. Familiar has a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico, a master's degree in business administration from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de Mexico-ITAM, and a Wharton School Executive Development Training.

He was a member of the National Chemical Industry Association (ANIQ), United Way Mexico, and the International Chamber of Commerce Mexico's Executive Board (ICC).

Could you explain how green hydrogen can aid in the decarbonization of energy-intensive sectors of the economy?

Green hydrogen, in general, becomes critical to achieving net-zero emissions, and it directly contributes to meeting the ambitious goals of future-oriented policy programmes such as the BuildBackBetter programme and the EU Green Deal. The dependability and energy density of hydrogen enable diverse applications in a wide range of industries, gradually phase out the use of fossil fuels such as coal and gas.

This is a huge benefit, especially in energy-intensive industries like steel. Another good example is the basic materials industry, which already uses a lot of grey hydrogen. Moving forward, it must clearly aim for a rapid transition to green hydrogen. In this case, it is critical to reduce regulatory barriers for technological solutions that aid in the expansion of infrastructure for both hydrogen and renewable energies.

How will the introduction of green hydrogen in the EU benefit EU citizens?
High energy costs and inflation rates are currently stifling economies and societies around the world, particularly in the EU. Governments are attempting to reduce high-stakes reliance on fossil fuel imports, particularly natural gas, while also meeting ambitious climate targets. Investors are concerned about a recession.

Finally, citizens experience these economic pressures in their daily lives. While it is not the only way out of this situation, I believe hydrogen is an important piece of the puzzle, particularly in the EU, where hydrogen will help to make societies and the economy more future-proof.

The EU has already acknowledged this, and has set a target of producing 25 million tons of green hydrogen by 2030 through REPowerEU. Without a doubt, this is a lofty goal, but I believe it is the best way forward. If the EU implements its ambitious hydrogen strategy and builds an integrated infrastructure, it will strengthen its reputation as an innovation and industry hub, attracting more talent, business, and investment.

Simultaneously, increasing hydrogen production capacity and expanding hydrogen infrastructure will aid in reducing the EU's reliance on fossil fuels and ensuring a diverse, sustainable energy supply. Not least, it will aid in the implementation of economies of scale, which will support European industries and manufacturing facilities. In short, the expansion of green hydrogen will benefit the EU economy on many levels, resulting in relief for EU citizens.

Why and how is Chemours' relevance to the hydrogen industry as a manufacturer of chemistries?

Chemours is focused on the "why" behind our solutions - how they can solve problems and contribute to a cleaner, more connected world. Although it may not be obvious at first glance, our chemistry has a positive impact on almost every aspect of the world around us, including 5G, lithium-ion batteries, automotive, electronics, construction, energy, semiconductor, paints, plastics, and communications.

Chemours' chemistry and advanced materials are critical for enabling a sustainable economy and assisting in the achievement of the EU Green Deal's ambitious goals, which include supporting the energy transition and enabling a robust and sustainable hydrogen infrastructure. Our ion exchange membranes, known as NafionTM membranes, are critical for a wide range of hydrogen applications: They enable the use of hydrogen in transportation fuel cells and efficient energy storage in flow batteries.

Most importantly, these membranes are used in large quantities to safely and efficiently produce green hydrogen via PEM water electrolysis, thereby helping to decarbonize the hydrogen production industry. This is a critical step in the clean energy transition, which is becoming increasingly important in light of recent geopolitical developments and energy challenges.

Working so closely on solutions to one of humanity's greatest challenges is very exciting for me. And I am convinced that by unleashing the power of chemistry, businesses, industries, and countries will not only be able to meet their carbon reduction targets, but will also be able to advance sustainable innovations.

As a result of the global energy crisis and political roadblocks, interest in alternative energy sources such as hydrogen has grown significantly. Do you see an increase in demand for your products?

Absolutely. Recent events have renewed global awareness of the need for a green energy transition: The EU's accelerated climate ambitions and current energy challenges have accelerated interest in and demand for clean energy solutions such as hydrogen power and fuel cell technology. After all, the focus isn't just political; there are already significant economic movements underway to develop forward-thinking applications for green hydrogen. As members of the hydrogen economy, we are naturally sensitive to and responsive to increased demand.

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

Upscaling production is one of the most significant potential bottlenecks for expanding the hydrogen market. This increase in output is based on a massive expansion of renewable energy capacity. Strategic investments across the entire value chain, in my opinion, are critical to avoiding a long-term production slowdown. Chemours has already taken significant steps to improve our operations' scalability: we recently announced a $200 million investment that will allow us to expand capacity and advance technology for our NafionTM ion exchange materials.

In Europe, for example, we have agreed to form a joint venture to generate much-needed production capacity for the continued market ramp-up of fuel cells and humidifier membranes for the transportation industry. Chemours' innovative NafionTM ion exchange materials and technologies will be at the heart of this collaboration, which will be integrated with complementary resources provided by both companies to accelerate time to market. The transaction is currently awaiting customary regulatory approvals. Such collaborations will be critical for accelerating hydrogen deployment in the mobility sector.

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

In which applications of the hydrogen industry do you see the most growth potential? What are you concentrating on?

Given Europe's global energy crisis and the extraordinary increase in demand for sustainable energy solutions as a result of climate change, green hydrogen generation via PEM (polymer electrolyte membrane) water electrolyzers will be critical in the future. The PEM technology sector is already seeing increased demand.

Chemours is well positioned to capitalize on this growth opportunity. In PEM water electrolyzers, our NafionTM membrane and dispersion products are at the heart of hydrogen generation. We invented the ion exchange membrane more than 50 years ago and have developed expertise not only in producing the basic ingredients used to manufacture NafionTM membranes, but also throughout the entire manufacturing value chain.

The mobility sector is another focus of our growth strategy. The automotive industry is already undergoing fundamental transformations. The use of hydrogen as a fuel, particularly in heavy-duty vehicles, will grow. As a result, we continue to invest in fuel cell applications in Europe in order to accelerate the time to market of fuel cells with high performance membranes.

What do you believe will be the most difficult challenges in scaling up hydrogen production?
When discussing hydrogen production upscaling, it is critical to consider the entire value chain: 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, all of which have an impact on the production volume. As a result, collaboration with all value chain participants is critical. All parties involved must be creative and pragmatic in order to scale up the required volumes, develop innovative solutions, and master any challenges that may arise.

Furthermore, the current circumstances influence any aspirations for expansion: Despite strong policy support for hydrogen production and applications, such as the EU hydrogen strategy, there are regulatory challenges along the value chain that could stifle industries' innovative capabilities. Furthermore, there is a need to increase renewable energy capacity.

To what extent do regulatory factors influence the growth of the hydrogen economy?
If you don't mind, I'd like to give you an example. Without ion exchange membranes, emission-neutral hydrogen production is not feasible in the near future. Fluoropolymers are critical components in the manufacture of these membranes. These are specialised, high-performance plastics with a one-of-a-kind combination of properties not found in any other material. As a result, they are critical in a variety of industries, including clean energy. There are no viable alternatives in many of the most critical applications.

Chemours supports industry-wide government regulation based on the most up-to-date science. However, five European Union member states have proposed restricting all per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as a single group. This broad approach would include thousands of different substances with vastly different physical and chemical properties, health and environmental profiles, uses, and benefits - including the subcategory of fluoropolymers that are safe for their intended applications. Attempting to regulate a broad group of chemical compounds in a broad way would contradict the current approach of an effective, science-based assessment of this group of substances, particularly when considering their socioeconomic values.

Because there are no fluoropolymers, ion exchange membranes, electrolyzers, or fuel cells, such a broad restriction could have a significant impact on hydrogen production. This would also imply that the restriction could jeopardize the implementation of ambitious policy initiatives like the European Green Deal and REPowerEU.

This presentation of the critical role of fluoropolymers, I believe, emphasizes the importance of taking a holistic approach to hydrogen policymaking, taking into account the entire value chain. Navigating complex interdependencies like this will be one of the most difficult challenges in scaling up hydrogen production.

The chemical industry as a whole is constantly under pressure to justify itself. How do you ensure the long-term viability of your own production?
Companies are increasingly expected to provide essential products responsibly. Chemours shares these expectations and is committed to producing our products responsibly. Because we are committed to responsible manufacturing, we have proper emissions controls in place and use the best available technology to reduce environmental emissions.

Indeed, our sustainability objectives and Corporate Responsibility Commitments (CRC) are ingrained in our corporate DNA. They are not only the right thing to do, but we see them as critical to our company's long-term growth and success. Chemours announced ambitious CRC goals in 2018, including a 60% reduction in operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, with a goal of reaching net zero by 2050. Similarly, we have committed to reducing fluorinated organic compound emissions by at least 99% by 2030, and we have made significant progress, as noted in our recent report.

As part of our commitment to responsible manufacturing, Chemours has implemented and continues to advance cutting-edge technologies to reduce fluorinated organic compound emissions at our manufacturing sites. Chemours invests millions of dollars each year in sustainable investments such as deploying emissions control technologies at manufacturing sites, pursuing energy efficiency, and integrating renewables more broadly and deeply across all of our locations.

What will it take in the future to keep the hydrogen economy growing?
The future growth of the global hydrogen market will necessitate science and collaboration among people and organizations working towards a common goal: scaling up hydrogen production and developing solutions to meet the world's ambitious climate goals.

Strategic investments across the entire hydrogen value chain, from research and development to end-use, will be required for future growth.

We actively cultivate and strengthen stakeholder relationships throughout the value chain. To gather insights and stay on the cutting edge of innovation, we collaborate with academia, equipment manufacturers, and project owners. This is an important part of creating cutting-edge solutions to solve the right problems for the industry and our customers.

We also advocate for clean hydrogen and a policy environment that supports it. The hydrogen economy is dependent on a favourable policy environment to enable the Green Deal and ensure that all aspects of the regulatory landscape are consistent. As a result, we work with regulators and policymakers - we are an active member of Hydrogen Europe, the Hydrogen Council, and the Renewable Hydrogen Coalition - to establish a strong presence in Europe and support the regional energy transition in line with the EU Green Deal goals.