EU Announces Hydrogen Fuel Cell Initiatives

European Research Commission has presented current and future key EU initiatives for a transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a hydrogen-based one at a "Fuels for a future generation" conference held in Brussels. Some €100 million of EU funding, matched by an equivalent amount of private investment, is currently being awarded to research and demonstration projects for hydrogen and fuel cell after the first call for proposals of the 6th EU Research Framework Programme. This will be reinforced via further calls for R&D proposals worth a public and private investment of €300 million (EU funding €150 million).

These projects represent the initial phase and form a basis for the large scale "Quick Start" initiative for hydrogen production and use, which is being launched jointly by Vice-President Loyola de Palacio and Commissioner Busquin. The "European Growth Initiative" earmarks an indicative €2.8 bn public and private funding for these partnerships over the next ten years. The Commission is thus helping to implement the ambitious vision of the European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform, which 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.

Hydrogen and fuel cells, what is it about?

Hydrogen is a clean and storable energy vector that can be produced from a variety of primary energy sources (including fossil, renewable and nuclear). It can be converted into electrical and mechanical power and heat using both conventional combustion energy converters, or by the 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. laptops).

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 is seeing the launch of many new research projects for hydrogen and fuel cells. After the first call for proposals of FP6 the Commission is now awarding ten contracts worth about €62 million of EU funding in the field of hydrogen and six contracts worth €30 million for fuel cells (see Tables attached in Annex I ; these contracts involve similar amounts of private funding). 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 that will provide a strong basis for the hydrodgen partnerships for large scale research and lighthouse demonstration projects. These further calls could be launched as early as July 2004 and 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). These activities should provide a fresh multi-disciplinary approach aimed at achieving real technology breakthroughs in materials and processes for hydrogen production, storage and distribution as well as for fuel cells and their applications in transport and power generation, to put Europe at the forefront of these technologies. They will also establish a European test framework for hydrogen technologies ready for demonstration.

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 co-ordinate 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.

Progress of the Hydrogen "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 to leverage finance. Member States should also contribute to these partnerships.

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