Brussels, Jun 2003
Summary report -
Hydrogen energy and fuel cells, a vision for our future (PDF 293 kB) - following the June conference
Hydrogen is not a primary energy source like coal and gas. It is an energy carrier. Initially it will be produced using existing energy systems based on different conventional primary energy carriers and sources. In the longer term renewable energy sources will become the most important source for the production of hydrogen. Regenerative hydrogen, and hydrogen produced from nuclear sources and fossil-based energy conversion systems with capture, and safe storage (sequestration) of CO2 emissions, are almost completely carbon free energy pathways.
Producing hydrogen in the large quantities necessary for the transport and stationary power markets could become a barrier to progress beyond the initial demonstration phase. If cost and security of supply are dominant considerations, then coal gasification with CO2 sequestration may be of interest for large parts of Europe. If the political will is to move to renewable energies, then bio-mass, solar, wind and ocean energy will be more or less viable according to regional geographic and climatic conditions. For example, concentrated solar thermal energy is a potentially affordable and secure option for large-scale hydrogen production, especially for Southern Europe. The wide range of options for sources, converters and applications shown in figures 1 and 2, though not exhaustive, illustrates the flexibility of hydrogen and fuel cell energy systems.
Fuel cells will be used in a wide range of products, ranging from very small fuel cells in portable devices such as mobile phones and laptops, through mobile applications like cars, delivery vehicles, buses and ships, to heat and power generators in stationary applications in the domestic and industrial sector. Future energy systems will also include improved conventional energy converters running on hydrogen (e.g. internal combustion engines, Stirling engines, turbines) as well as other energy carriers (e.g. direct heat and electricity from renewable energy, and bio-fuels for transport).
The benefits of hydrogen and fuel cells are wide ranging, but will not be fully apparent until they are in widespread use. With the use of hydrogen in fuel-cell systems there is very low to zero carbon emissions and no emissions of harmful ambient air substances like nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide or carbon monoxide. Because of their low noise and high power quality, fuel cells systems are ideal for use in hospitals or IT-centres, or for mobile applications. They offer high efficiencies, which are independent of size. Fuel-cell electric drivetrains can provide a significant reduction in energy consumption, and regulated emissions. Fuel cells can also be used as Auxiliary Power Units (APU) in combination with internal combustion engines, or in stationary back-up systems when operated with reformers for on-board conversion of other fuels - saving energy and reducing air pollution, especially in urban congested traffic.
In brief, hydrogen and electricity together represent one of the most promising ways to realise sustainable energy, whilst fuel cells provide the most efficient conversion device for converting hydrogen, and possibly other fuels, into electricity. Hydrogen and fuel cells open the way to integrated, "open energy systems" that simultaneously address all of the major energy and environmental challenges, and have the flexibility to adapt to the diverse and intermittent renewable energy sources that will be available in the Europe of 2030.