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Brussels, 10 September 2003

EU roadmap towards a European Partnership for a Sustainable Hydrogen Economy

Are you ready for the energy of the future? Today, in Brussels, Commission President Romano Prodi, Vice President Loyola de Palacio and Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin presented a Communication on actions towards the launch of a European Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Technology Partnership, steered by an Advisory Council, that will devise a Hydrogen Research Strategic Agenda. The Partnership will include all major hydrogen stakeholders, private and public, at EU level. The Commission will also fund hydrogen development and deployment research projects. It will foster joint public-private initiatives to promote commercialisation and business development. It will ensure a consistent policy framework, identify a realistic deployment strategy, boost international co-operation in this field, and promote education, training, information and dissemination of results in the hydrogen R&D area. The timetable, the definition of the structure, the terms of reference of the Advisory Council and invitation to note interest for participation in the Advisory Council will be ready as early as October 2003.

According to President Prodi: “However efficient our motor engines and electricity power plants are, if we continue to consume energy at the current rates, future generations will have to pay the price. Hydrogen can help address this issue. It is a promising energy vector, but its potential is yet to be fully exploited. This requires a firm political will and increased resources. We will meet this challenge. Our goal is to achieve a step-by-step shift towards a fully integrated hydrogen economy within the next few decades. We are strongly committed to this aim, and our actions follow up on our commitments.”

Vice-President De Palacio added: “"Hydrogen and fuel cells are key to achieving the EU objective of replacing 20% of vehicle fuels with alternative fuels by 2020. They can potentially reduce the European Union's dependence on oil while at the same time contributing to sustainable development. We have a vision for the hydrogen economy of the future: now we have to work with hydrogen players, both private and public, and with our international partners, including the US and Japan, towards turning that vision into reality.“

“In the near future hydrogen and fuel cells will help tackle the issues of security of energy supply, environmental impact and climate change, and more decentralised energy production,” said Commissioner Busquin. “EU policy initiatives and many EU-funded projects are already advancing research, development and demonstration of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. But now we need to move up a gear to encourage hydrogen and fuel cells take-up. These are prime examples of the type of "frontier technologies" that are helping the Union to move towards its goal of a sustainable, knowledge-based economy.”

Sink or Swim

While the US and Japan are increasing considerably their investment in hydrogen-related research and development and actively co-ordinating with private partners, European public support from the EU and Member States remains at a significantly lower and fragmented level. To stay competitive, resources must be increased and efforts well co-ordinated to achieve critical mass and increase efficiency in the development of these key future technologies.

Therefore, last year, the Commission decided to strengthen its involvement by setting up a high level group on hydrogen and fuel cells, with the aim of proposing an integrated European vision of the role that hydrogen and fuel cells could play in achieving secure and sustainable energy, and how to turn that potential into reality. The group consisted of top-level stakeholders from across Europe, representing mainly the various industries and research community interested in these technologies.

The group's conclusions and recommendations were discussed and endorsed on 16-17 June 2003 at the major European conference "The hydrogen economy - a bridge to sustainable energy". The conference brought together around 450 participants representing high-level policy and decision-makers from public administrations and from the industrial, financial, scientific and research communities as well as recognised representatives of civil society.

An ambitious strategy

A broad consensus emerged that the overall policy of the Union on sustainable development must encompass an ambitious strategy on hydrogen and fuel cells, given their potential for contributing to security of energy supply, greenhouse gas reductions, for cleaner air and for storage and decentralised uses of energy, for diversifying primary energy sources and for facilitating the transition towards renewable energy.

The key recommended action coming out of the high level group and of the June conference was to set up a European Partnership, associating all relevant players and initiatives, both public and private, with an interested in the formulation and implementation of an integrated strategy for hydrogen.

Objectives and deliverables

The main goal of the European partnership for the sustainable hydrogen economy is to facilitate the development and deployment of costcompetitive, world class European hydrogen and fuel cell based energy systems and component technologies for applications in transport, stationary and portable power. In the future, anything from cars to power plants and mobile phones might be powered by hydrogen.

The scope and operational structure of the European Partnership should be such as to ensure a balanced and active participation of the major stakeholders (i.e. industry, scientific community, public authorities, civil society), as well as to allow efficient co-ordination of the European, national, regional and local research, development and deployment programmes and initiatives.

It will help to develop awareness of fuel cell and hydrogen market opportunities and energy policy scenarios and to foster future co-operation, both within the EU and at a global scale. The European Partnership will contribute to the necessary co-ordination for optimising co-operation between the European hydrogen strategy and international initiatives, such as the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy recently proposed by the US Government.

Key elements of the integrated European strategy on hydrogen:

Strategic research agenda to define performance targets, priorities and timelines in order to create a substantial and co-ordinated increase in European technical and socio-economic research and development efforts and budgets in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, from fundamental science to validation programmes;

Proposals for lighthouse demonstration and deployment projects;

A policy framework that is coherent across transport, energy and environment to reward technologies that meet policy objectives;

A deployment strategy, including a European hydrogen roadmap and advice on policy measures;

Initiatives of public-private partnerships to promote commercialisation and business development, bringing together different industrial and financing organisations;

A framework to develop international co-operation;

A Europe-wide education and training programme, from schools to world-class research;

A communication and dissemination centre for all these initiatives.

Structure and timetable

To achieve these objectives, the European Partnership should draw together these new actions and initiatives, integrating as appropriate existing projects and activities in a structure open to all relevant stakeholders. The Partnership should be steered and monitored by an “advisory council, representing a balance of expert knowledge and stakeholder interests.

The advisory council should provide guidance on how to initiate and push forward the elements above, building on existing European initiatives, networks and structures. Its secretariat would be funded jointly by the Commission and stakeholders. Moreover, the Commission might set up a “project team” of in-house experts.

As regards the timetable, the definition of the structure, the terms of reference of the Advisory Council and invitations for participation to the Advisory Council could be ready as early as October.

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