Infrastructure Investor Awards 2021: Sustainable Investor of the Year

The launch of Ardian’s clean hydrogen infrastructure fund Hy24, which reached a first close of €1bn, placed the firm ahead of the competition.

With more asset managers and institutional investors increasingly making sustainable infrastructure a priority, it is no easy feat standing out as the clear winner of Sustainable Investor of the Year. Thanks to the recent successful launch and first close of its clean hydrogen infrastructure fund, however, Paris-based Ardian has set itself apart in a field of environmentally-conscious contenders for the award.

Established as an impact fund in line with Article 9 of the EU’s Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation and intended to invest globally along the entire hydrogen value chain, the Clean H2 Infra Fund was launched in October in a 50/50 joint venture with Zurich-based clean hydrogen private investment and asset management platform FiveT Hydrogen.

Hailed as “the world’s largest clean hydrogen infrastructure investment platform” by Ardian and FiveT Hydrogen at the time of its launch, the Hy24 fund – which has a target size of €1.5 billion – started strong, securing commitments of €800 million from a global roster of early investors.

In addition to the French trio of TotalEnergies, AirLiquide and Vinci Concessions, there were US industrial companies Plug Power, Chart Industries and Baker Hughes, South Korea’s LOTTE Chemical, Groupe ADP, AXA, Ballard, EDF and Schaeffler.

According to Ardian head of infrastructure Mathias Burghardt, the timeliness of the fund’s launch was a case of preparation meeting opportunity. “We started dedicating a team on hydrogen two years ago, but then we saw an acceleration of projects, much faster than anticipated,” he told Infrastructure Investor at the time.

“It’s true that [hydrogen] is less mature than infrastructure and therefore the risk profile is very different. But I am very positively surprised by the appetite from institutional investors – pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies – that want to be a part of it.

“I think people realise that this industry is going to grow at an incredible pace. This will be a new asset class and they want to be a first mover because they realise that with renewables, the best returns were in the beginning. I think it will become a strong asset class before 2030.”

Continuing to attract investment, the fund went on to reach a first close of €1 billion in December, thanks in part to Spain’s Enagás, Italy’s Snam and France’s GRTgaz committing €100 million to the fund via the trio’s joint initiative to invest in clean hydrogen projects. A further €100 million, which rounded out the Hy24 fund’s first close, is understood to have come from French re-insurer CCR Group, with the fund seemingly on track to reach its expected €1.8 billion hard-cap by mid-2022.

Banking on resilience

Central to the firm’s ability to stand out from other sustainable investors is its faith in the renewable energy sector’s ability to weather most storms, even one as detrimental as the pandemic.

As co-head of Ardian’s North American infrastructure fund Mark Voccola told us last year: “One thing the pandemic has done is shine a light on the importance and the resilience of energy and of renewable energy in particular. There were impacts on employees, but absent that, those energy assets and companies still worked, and they proved they could provide downside protection to investors as the economy turned down.

“That is what you would expect to see, and it is what we model, but it was good to see in practice.”

SECOND PLACE: Partners Group