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Hydrogen economy: new EU ‘Quick Start’ initiative

On 18 March 2004, European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin presented current and future EU initiatives for the transition from a fossil fuel-based to a hydrogen-based economy.

Philippe Busquin
Philippe Busquin

Speaking at the ‘Fuels for a future generation’ conference in Brussels, Commissioner Busquin said, “Research must vigorously pursue measures to tackle the twin problems of security of energy supply and global warming. Our aim is clear: to develop cost-competitive, sustainable energy systems for future generations.”

Some €100 million of EU funding, matched by an equivalent amount of private investment, has already been awarded to research and demonstration projects for hydrogen and fuel cells after the first FP6 call for proposals. This will now be reinforced through further calls for R&D proposals worth €300 million in public and private investment (EU funding €150 million). These projects will represent the initial phase of the large scale Quick Start initiative for hydrogen production and use, being launched jointly by Commission Vice-President Loyola de Palacio and Commissioner Busquin.

‘Quick Start’ public-private partnerships

In July 2003, the Commission launched the European Initiative for Growth to boost EU economic development. As part of this initiative, the Commission presented in November 2003 a ‘Quick Start Programme’ with a list of public/private investment projects for developing European infrastructures, networks and knowledge. The aim is to encourage the creation of public/private partnerships in co-operation with the industry, the research community, and other partners, including notably the European Investment Bank. Member States are also expected to contribute to these partnerships.

The knowledge component of the hydrogen and fuel cell Quick Start programme foresees, in principle, two major ten-year partnerships involving research, development, demonstration and deployment for hydrogen production and use in communities. At present the budget for these projects is €1.3 billion and €1.5 billion respectively, where public funds should be matched by private investment.

“Although hydrogen represents a bridge to a sustainable energy future,” says Busquin, “it is also a revolutionary technology. It signals major changes in the way we produce, distribute and use energy. Complex transition strategies have to be worked through, involving heavy investments and the building of consensus between key players. This is why the Commission is launching an ambitious Quick start initiative to contribute to the achievement of the Technology Platform’s vision.”

An ambitious initiative

With its Growth Initiative earmarking an indicative €2.8 billion in public and private funding for hydrogen- and fuel cell-related research partnerships over the next ten years, the Commission is helping to implement the ambitious vision of the European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform. It held its first general assembly on 20 January 2004, under the aegis of Commission President Romano Prodi, and is now developing coherent European research and deployment strategies.

“This new hydrogen and fuel cell Quick start initiative”, says Busquin, “will be composed of a coherent set of partnerships involving large-scale research and lighthouse demonstration projects of hydrogen systems and facilities. The purpose is to accelerate the commercialisation of hydrogen technologies during the next decades making a reality for European citizens of the promises it holds”.

Why hydrogen?

Hydrogen is an easily produced, clean and storable energy source. It can be converted into electrical and mechanical power as well as heat using both conventional combustion energy converters, or by so called ‘fuel cell energy converters’. Hydrogen fuelled fuel cells are intrinsically clean, very efficient, electro-chemical energy converters that can be adapted to a wide range of applications such as stationary combined heat and power generation, vehicle propulsion and portable and micro-power devices, e.g. for use in laptops and other small devices.

Hydrogen and fuel cells together offer great potential to address the problems of energy supply security and mitigating the effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.

A further €300 million in 2004-2005

The first quarter of this year has seen the launch of many new research projects for hydrogen and fuel cells. As a result of the first FP6 call for proposals the Commission is now awarding ten contracts worth about €62 million in the field of hydrogen and six contracts worth €30 million for fuel cells. The Commission intends to further reinforce research in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in the remaining part of the Framework Programme with joint and co-ordinated calls for R&D proposals as the first phase of the Quick Start hydrogen initiative.

These additional calls could be launched as early as July 2004 and will be drawn from all relevant priorities of the Framework Programme, including energy, aeronautics, surface transport, nanotechnologies, materials and production technologies. These calls could be worth a public and private investment of €300 million (EC funding €150 million).

Progress of the European Hydrogen and fuel Cell Technology Platform

Substantial progress has been made since the establishment of the Advisory Council of the European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform in December 2003 and the general assembly of the Platform held in January 2004.

Co-operation has been established with EU Member States to coordinate national research activities in this field, following the recommendations of the Platform. The Platform steering panels are now starting work to identify the detailed targets and priorities for research on hydrogen and fuel cells and to develop a deployment strategy, addressing key issues and actions needed for bringing hydrogen and fuel cells successfully to the market place. A Strategic Research Agenda and a Deployment Strategy should be delivered by the end of this year and they will be a major input for the definition of the subsequent phases of the Quick Start hydrogen initiative.