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EU unveils vision for the energy source of the 21st century: hydrogen and fuel cell technology

European Commission - IP/03/848   16/06/2003

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IP/03/848

Brussels, 16 June 2003

EU unveils vision for the energy source of the 21st century: hydrogen and fuel cell technology

Could most people in Europe be driving cars fuelled by hydrogen in just a few decades time? Does hydrogen represent the new frontier of global energy and transport? The report on "Hydrogen and fuel cells a vision for our future" presented today by a high-level expert group to the Commission, sets out scenarios for the widespread use of this clean technology of the future. The report, discussed by Commission President Romano Prodi, Vice-President and Energy and Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio and Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin at a major conference in Brussels, recommends launching a Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Technology Platform to bring together key players in this sector. The Platform should provide the basis for an effective public-private business partnership, and identify research and development, and deployment priorities for the future. The report also highlights the need for a range of regulatory, fiscal and financial measures to help make an everyday reality of the hydrogen technology and its many potential uses.

Commission President Romano Prodi said: "Hydrogen and fuel cell technology represents a strategic choice for Europe. Within the next 20 to 30 years it will change considerably our society and economic growth patterns, by bringing about a decentralised and cleaner model of energy production and distribution".

Commissioner de Palacio, added: "Hydrogen and fuel cells can potentially reduce the European Union's dependence on oil while at the same time contributing to sustainable development. They are key to achieving the EU objective of replacing 20% of vehicle fuels with alternative fuels by 2020, including hydrogen. "

EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: "Today, hydrogen and fuel cells are too expensive, and research efforts in this field are scattered. We need a consistent approach at European level to reach a technological and economic break-even point in hydrogen take-up. A strong partnership between industrialists, researchers, users and policy makers is therefore needed to ensure Europe leads the drive towards the hydrogen economy."

Hydrogen at the top of EU agenda

The conference organised by the European Commission in Brussels on 16-17 June 2003 aims at presenting and discussing the summary report prepared by the Group. The 450 delegates include relevant policy and decision-makers, as well as industry and academia. The Greek Presidency is represented by Mr Akis Tsohatzopoulos, Minister of Development.

Mrs Claudie Haigneré, French Minister for Research and New Technologies, Mr Adamowitsch, German State Secretary for the Federal Minister of Economics and Labour, Mr. Spencer Abraham, US Secretary of Energy, and Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom will also participate. Several Members of the European Parliament will also contribute.

The High Level Group on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells

Hydrogen is an environmentally friendly technology: it produces electricity and heat by combining hydrogen and oxygen, with water vapour as its only by-product. In October 2002, the Commission established the High Level Group for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell technologies comprising leading personalities of the hydrogen and fuel cell community.

The Group has prepared a report outlining the research, deployment and non-technical actions that would be necessary to move from today's fossil-based energy economy to a future sustainable hydrogen-oriented economy.

The Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Technology Platform

The High Level group strongly recommends the launch of a European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform to be steered by an Advisory Council. The Platform should encourage a consistent policy framework across transport, energy, environment and enterprise policies to reward technologies that meet sustainable development policy objectives.

The Platform should also devise a Strategic Research Agenda. This should be accompanied by a long-term hydrogen deployment strategy, including demonstration and pilot programmes. This should also lead to a long-term European strategy for hydrogen and fuel cells to guide the transition to a hydrogen future, with realistic deadlines: the transition to a hydrogen-oriented economy should take 20 to 30 years.

Towards a consistent strategy

The Platform should then:

  • Set clear objectives and commercialisation targets, foster strategic planning and deployment in response to policy priorities and monitor progress;

  • Launch a business development initiative to foster investment in innovation, involving venture capital companies, institutional investors, regional development initiatives, and the European Investment Bank;

  • Promote an education and training programme, through the development of a master-plan for education and information, to stimulate learning at all levels ;

  • Introduce a strategy for building international co-operation with both developed and developing countries with a view to co-operating on technology bottlenecks, codes and standards, and technology transfer;

  • Establish a centre for consolidating and disseminating information that could significantly encourage co-ordination of the shift towards hydrogen and fuel cells.

What else needs to be done to foster hydrogen technology?

The High Level Group summary report also recommends boosting:

  • Public support (fiscal, financial and regulatory) for demonstration and pilot projects, through direct or indirect actions including fuel duty rebates and enhanced capital allowances

  • Promotion of energy efficiency measures to stimulate demand for clean transport and stationary applications

  • Support for infrastructure design, planning and assessment of viability, at the various stages of market development

  • Review and suppression of regulatory barriers to commercialisation of hydrogen and fuel cells

  • Review and development of codes and standards to support commercial development

  • Simplification and harmonisation of planning and certification requirements (e.g. fuel and safety standards)

  • Assessment of the scope and effectiveness of alternative mixes of policy measures, including market pull/incremental pricing policies and active use of public procurement schemes, including possible defence applications

  • International co-ordination of policy development and deployment strategies

Funding

In view of the ambitious long-term objectives of the Technology Platform, strong financial support is necessary to turn this vision into concrete results and bring about a real change. Such funding must be attracted from a variety of sources, including the instruments of the EU Research Framework Programmes, the Structural Funds, national and regional research funding, the European Investment Bank (EIB), EUREKA etc. Stimulating increased private investment in research will also be a key goal of the platform.

Why hydrogen?

Because hydrogen and fuel cells will provide Europe with the opportunity to solve its energy, climate change and air pollution problems. World-wide demand for energy is forecast to grow at the alarming rate of 1.8 % per year for the period 2000-2030. Fossil fuel is confined to a few areas of the world, and as those reserves are diminishing, they will become increasingly expensive.

At the same time, environmental needs demand a reduction in greenhouse gasses and toxic emissions. Hydrogen technology can contribute to security and diversity of energy supply, greenhouse gas reductions, air quality, industrial competitiveness, and to meeting the growing energy demand in developing countries.

Barriers to hydrogen technology take-up

They include the challenges posed by hydrogen production, distribution, storage, infrastructure and safety and to reducing their related costs. Materials, components, fuel cell stack performance and system design must also be improved. The socio-economic and environmental impact of hydrogen technology must also be carefully assessed.

Global competition vs. international collaboration

Enhanced international co-operation, working in partnership with the US and Asian countries, as well as the developing world, is necessary. This is key to developing common products serving world markets and meeting common standards for quality and safety.

The Commission is actively pursuing co-operation with the US in this field. An agreement is due to be signed at the time of the conference, and discussions are underway to further enhance co-operation. During the next Transatlantic Summit to be held in Washington on the 25 June 2003, Presidents Prodi and Bush will discuss co-operation on hydrogen technology.

For further information please visit:

http://ec.europa.eu/research/energy/nn/nn_rt_hlg1_en.html


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