Europe shows green light

Millions of euros on offer to speed up commercialisation of transport technologies, writes Zoe Corbyn

November 6, 2008

The European Union (EU) has announced new research opportunities that make millions available for the study of "green" energy.

The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative (JTI), a new public-private partnership between the EU and industry, was officially launched last month, along with a first call for proposals worth EUR28.1 million (£22.3 million). The JTI works to bring transport using hydrogen-powered fuel cells to fruition.

Launching the initiative, Janez Potonik, the EU Commissioner for Science and Research, said: "The development of new technologies is crucial if we are to meet EU objectives to address climate change and energy-related challenges."

Separately, the 2009 "energy theme" round of the EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7), worth EUR245.5 million, opened in September.

An information day to alert UK researchers to the opportunities was held last week by Energie Helpline UK, a service funded by the British Government to help UK researchers win EU energy-related funding.

The JTI, which is worth a total of EUR1 billion over its six-year lifetime and is funded equally by the European Commission and industry, will finance applied research and development as demonstration projects in the area of hydrogen and fuel-cell technology.

The goal is to speed development to achieve commercialisation between 2010 and 2020. The initiative is expected to cut the time taken to bring the technology to market by between two and five years.

All EU funding into the field will be channeled through the JTI for the length of the initiative. Calls will be published annually, with budgets escalating. Next year's figure is expected to be EUR70.1 million.

The current call covers the production, storage and distribution of hydrogen, as well as transport and refuelling infrastructure. The deadline for proposals is 15 January 2009.

Academics submitting research proposals need to do so as part of consortia drawn from universities, research centres or industry that include partners from at least three EU member states.

At least one partner must be from either the "grouping" representing industry or the research "grouping" representing the European research community, which help decide the direction of the JTI with the European Commission.

"Both are open clubs, so any institution is welcome to join subject to a membership fee," said Marisa Atienza Morales, deputy general for research in the Directorate for Energy, the European Commission unit with responsibility for the JTI.

While a number of UK companies are participating in the industry grouping, only two of the 60 or so members in the research cluster come from UK institutions. They are the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), based at Imperial College London, which is funded by three research councils, and the Centre for Process Innovation, a private innovation company.

Jeff Hardy, network manager at UKERC, said the centre was asked earlier in the year by the UK Government to represent the interests of university researchers on the research grouping.

Although UK industry was well represented, it was felt that academics were not, he said. "Before we did this, (the JTI) was somewhat of a black box."

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council pays the membership fee and UKERC co-ordinates input from some 16 universities.

In addition to applying for calls, UK academics can get involved by joining the JTI working groups that put the calls together, Dr Hardy explained. "A lot of consortia are built within those working groups ... If you are not in them, you might miss out."

The JTI is not the only EU funding available for green energy research. Helen Fairclough, project manager of Energie Helpline UK, noted that four new calls are open under the FP7's "energy theme".

They cover renewables research to improve the efficiency of a number of technologies, including photovoltaic cells, concentrated solar power, geothermal and biomass-energy; carbon capture and storage to produce zero-emission power plants; smart-energy networks examining how electricity grids can integrate renewable energy; and sustainable bio-refineries that use bio-energy crops more effectively.

All calls are currently open, and closing dates range from later this month to next April.

Participation is also via consortia representing a minimum of three different member states. Energie Helpline UK can help academics find partners.

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