Brussels, 17 Jun 2003
The Commission President, Romano Prodi, has put his weight behind a newly published report by the high level group on hydrogen and fuel cells, which calls for a European strategic research agenda and roadmap to help create a hydrogen economy.
Mr Prodi signalled his support during an opening speech to the two day conference on 'the hydrogen economy: a bridge to sustainable energy' which began in Brussels on 16 June.
'We [the Commission] are strongly committed to a vision of a European economy based entirely on renewable sources of energy by the middle of this century,' said Mr Prodi. 'We need to define a European research agenda and strategy, leading to a road map for implementation.'
The high level group was created with the backing of Mr Prodi in 2002 by Commissioner for Transport and Energy, Loyola de Palacio, and Commissioner for Research, Philippe Busquin. It's report, entitled 'hydrogen energy and fuel cells: a vision of our future', outlines the research, deployment and non technical steps that are necessary for Europe to move towards a hydrogen economy. The report also acted as the basis for the Brussels conference.
It concludes that five key elements are required in order to begin the transition from fossil fuels towards a hydrogen based economy: a supportive political framework; a strategic research agenda; a deployment strategy; a European road map for hydrogen and fuel cells; and a European hydrogen and fuel cell partnership.
The high level group of senior representatives from industry and research institutions recommended in their report that a strategic research agenda should bring together the best researchers in Europe to generate a critical mass of resources, efforts and competencies to overcome the technical barriers and socio-economic issues that exist.
Specifically, the report says the agenda should address the technological challenges of hydrogen production, distribution, storage, infrastructure and safety, and of fuel cell performance, durability and cost. Furthermore, it should contribute to the ongoing review and refinement of a European hydrogen road map, with targets and review criteria based on research results.
In implementing the strategic research agenda, the report advises the identification of European virtual centres of excellence to act as a focal point for research, the establishment of prototype demonstration projects, and the definition of rules on intellectual property that promote cooperative international research.
A supportive political framework requires public sector funding to stimulate activities and share with industry the risks associated with research, development and initial deployment. Also, supporting policy measures could include the promotion of energy efficiency measures to stimulate demand for new technologies, the removal of regulatory barriers to the commercialisation of hydrogen and fuel cells, and the development of common codes and standards.
Welcoming the report, Ms Palacio said: The target of this group was to formulate a collective vision on the contribution that hydrogen and fuel cells could make to the realisation of sustainable energy systems in the future. As Commissioner responsible for Energy and Transport policy, I requested the high level group to deliver a realistic report, and I am satisfied with the result of their work.'
Mr Busquin described the group's report as 'an important document for the Union's energy policies', adding that in six months of intensive work, the high level group had 'established, for the first time, a common vision among European industry of the hydrogen economy'.
Mr Busquin warned that the challenges facing hydrogen technologies were still significant, but reminded delegates that the first electrical grid was installed only 20 years after the demonstration of the first light bulb. Ms Palacio stressed that although the hydrogen economy will take 20 to 30 years to emerge, crucial policy decisions must be taken immediately.
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