Could hydrogen lead to a third industrial revolution?

October 6, 2006

Brussels, 05 Oct 2006

Hydrogen has frequently been touted as a realistic solution to the world's energy quandary, providing clean, limitless energy at a time when climate change and diminishing resources are pushing energy up the agenda of consumers, business leaders and politicians alike. Sooner or later, decisions will have to be taken on which form or forms of alternative energy should be pursued. Many are pushing for governments to get behind hydrogen, including Jeremy Rifkin, founder and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in the US, and a one-time advisor to former Commission President Romano Prodi.

The world is on the verge of a revolution, according to Mr Rifkin, steered by the rise of hydrogen and advanced forms of communication. 'The big revolutions in history have come about due to a convergence of new energy regimes and new communication regimes,' said Mr Rifkin on 4 October, speaking to journalists in the European Parliament.

The first industrial revolution was powered by new technology involving coal and steel at the same time as the print press emerged, while the second industrial revolution came about with the discovery of oil and the telephone, claimed Mr Rifkin, the author of 17 published books on the impact of scientific and technological changes.

Hydrogen can be used in conjunction with other alternative energy forms, and can pool and store what comes from them. Renewable energy technologies on their own can sometimes be unreliable because they rely on environmental factors (sun, wind, waves).

'Europe is a huge continent of renewable energy, but it's disparate,' said Mr Rifkin. 'Hydrogen can store all these different forms of renewable energy.' Smart power grids, currently being tested in the US' Silicon Valley, could then be used to distribute energy. The grids can be used like the Internet, said Mr Rifkin. 'There's an opportunity here to create a third industrial revolution,' he said.

When operational, such a system would allow each locality to be self-sufficient, and of course emissions would be cut. All that is needed now is leadership. 'The next few months will be critical in terms of whether or not Europe steps out in front and creates an exit strategy from oil,' said Mr Rifkin.

Certainly Europe is planning on investing more in hydrogen research. Under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the EU already supported numerous projects investigating aspects of creating a hydrogen economy, and a Technology Platform on hydrogen and fuel cells was established.

The energy budget for the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), due to get underway on 1 January 2007, has increased substantially, and it seems likely that hydrogen research will be one of the benefactors of this increase..

A number of MEPs called for hydrogen to be the main recipient of FP7's energy funding envelope on 4 October. Belgian socialist MEP and former EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin urged: 'We need to say that in FP7 we want the majority of the energy budget to go to hydrogen. We shouldn't give any reticence to giving support to this in FP7.'

Italian liberal MEP Vittorio Prodi added his support, saying: 'We are here to stress the parliament's support for the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform, and I would like to reconfirm the Parliament's commitment to a hydrogen society. I am convinced of the need to move forward.'

MEPs Jo Leinen and Umberto Guidoni, representing the Socialists and the United Left respectively, also spoke out in favour of hydrogen, with Mr Leinen pointing out that the EU started with energy (coal and steel) in 1956, and Mr Guidoni explaining that hydrogen had helped him get into space in his former career as an astronaut.

Speaking later in the day and opening the Fuel Cell Technology Platform's annual assembly, Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik praised the public-private-partnership behind the Platform, and spoke optimistically about the future. 'We can identify and overcome obstacles to the implementation of this technology in all its very many applications. We can tackle technology bottle necks, raise public awareness and appreciation, address safety issues and develop standards that can ensure that technology developed in Europe is used not just here but around the world,' he said.

For further information on the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform, please visit:

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