Commission launches High Level Group on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells

October 11, 2002

Brussels, 10 October 2002

A new High Level Group advising on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells (HLG) was launched today in Brussels by European Commission President Romano Prodi, Commission Vice President, Loyola de Palacio, responsible for Energy and Transport, and Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. The Group comprises top level representatives from major EU automotive and energy companies, public utilities, research institutes, transport companies and policy makers. They will asses the potential benefits of using hydrogen and fuel cells in EU transport, energy production and many other areas, and help pave the way for more focused EU action in this field. Initial results are expected by mid-2003: a "foresight report" will include a hydrogen and fuel cell research agenda and deployment and commercialisation actions, taking into account issues such as innovation, marketing, distribution and infrastructure, safety, public/private partnerships and investments in the hydrogen sector.

EU Commission President Romano Prodi said: "This is an important choice for Europe. Hydrogen technology will not only reduce our energy dependency and gas emissions; in the long run it will also change considerably our socio-economic model and create new opportunities for developing countries".

Commissioner Vice-President Loyola de Palacio, in charge of Transport and Energy policy, added: "I am looking for new and original ways to reduce the European Union's dependence on oil while at the same time contributing to sustainable development. Hydrogen and fuel cells offer such a possibility and they can contribute significantly to our policy objective of replacing 20% of automotive fuel with alternative fuels by 2020. In addition, hydrogen brings important opportunities for the distribution of sustainable energy (e.g. renewables) and for decentralised power generation."

EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: "To meet the stringent Kyoto Protocol targets, the EU will increase the use of renewable energy sources and substitute fuels including hydrogen. Today, hydrogen and fuel cells are too expensive, that is why we need a consistent approach at a European level. By bringing industrialists, researchers, users and policy makers together, we aim to help build consensus and ensure Europe is leading the drive towards sustainable energy."

Towards a hydrogen-based economy

Global demand for electricity is expected to double by 2015. Hydrogen will eventually contribute substantially to clean transport and power generation: its only emission is water vapour. But to enable us to move from today's largely fossil fuel based energy economy to a more hydrogen-based one we need more research, know-how and investment. The HLG will assess progress so far and help devise short-term actions to introduce hydrogen to the market and prepare a long-term hydrogen and fuel cell strategy at EU level.

Fuel cell market forecasts

Independent market studies on fuel cells forecast average annual growth rates of 40-60% in fuel cell-propelled transport over the next decade. The European fuel cell vehicle market should reach €16.3 billion by 2020, and €52 billion by 2040. As for power plants and energy production, Europe and the US will need to replace and reinforce their energy generation capacity. This includes micro-generators powering home appliances and remote regions. However fuel cell marketing still has substantial technical and socio-economic barriers to overcome, such as the lack of hydrogen distribution infrastructures.

The need for EU action

The USA and Japan are world leaders in fuel cell research. In the US this is largely driven by defence and aerospace applications. US government support to fuel cell development includes the Freedom Car Programme (€150 million per year), and the €25-30 million SECA (Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance) programme. Japan supports fuel cell and hydrogen technology development with a 28-year programme (1993-2020) with a total budget of €2.4 billion.

EU efforts in this field are not structured and they are under-funded and fragmented. Total European public funding for fuel cell research is estimated at some €50-60 million per year, that's about one third of US funding, and one quarter of Japan's. The EU needs a coherent fuel cell and hydrogen technology strategy to aid the transition and to help the sector achieve a better cost/benefit ratio, thus making it competitive and turning fuel cells into viable market products. Issues such as fuelling, safety and common technological standards need to be addressed quickly.

EU-supported research on hydrogen and fuel cells

The Fifth EU Research Framework Programme (FP5 1999-2002) devoted €120 million to hydrogen and fuel cell research. In the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6 2003-2006), research on energy and transport will be undertaken under the thematic priority "Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems" for which a total budget of €2,120 million has been earmarked. It is envisaged that the budget for research on fuel cells, including their applications and hydrogen technologies will be increased substantially compared with FP5. First calls for proposals will be published later in 2002, and projects will be launched by mid 2003.

The High Level Group on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells

The High Level Group is formed by senior representatives of the hydrogen, fuel cell and transport sector. The Group is an informal body with an advisory role. Its main objective will be to advise the Commission on determining the prospects for, and economic impact of, moving towards a sustainable energy economy based on hydrogen and electricity and introducing fuel cells as energy converters. By mid 2003 the Group will present a paper outlining ideas for the joint European actions necessary for a vibrant fuel cell industry and a sustainable hydrogen energy economy. The report may be followed by a more detailed action plan, including a hydrogen and fuel cell strategic research agenda.

For further information on EU hydrogen policy please visit:


DN: IP/02/1450 Date: 10/10/2002

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