Brussels, 21 Mar 2005
The main barriers to the hydrogen economy are no longer economic, technical or related to the development of infrastructure, but rather a lack of commitment and cooperation among the key stakeholders, say industry insiders.
Leading private sector stakeholders were invited to present their views on the future hydrogen economy to the annual general assembly of the European hydrogen and fuel cell technology platform in Brussels on 17 March.
'I have a simple message,' began Aldo Belloni, CEO of Linde Gas and Engineering. 'Infrastructure is no longer a barrier to the hydrogen economy. [...] There are infrastructure challenges, but they are more about commitment and cooperation than technical or economic.'
To back up his claim, Mr Belloni presented the results of analysis commissioned by Linde which shows that in a high uptake scenario, as many as 6.1 million hydrogen powered cars could be on Europe's roads by 2020, being served by 2,800 filling stations, with total infrastructure costs of around 3.5 billion euro.
According to the same high uptake scenario, by 2030 there could be around 40 million hydrogen cars in Europe. 'With advances in [satellite navigation] technology, we would need a smaller network of hydrogen filling stations to service these vehicles - around 18,000 in total,' said Mr Belloni 'A city the size of Brussels, for example, could be serviced by around 50 filling stations.'
Mr Belloni said that the main focus in terms of infrastructure planning is currently on the filling stations. Linde's research suggests that the most economical filling station infrastructure would involve the centralised production of hydrogen, using road tankers to supply the stations. 'Distributing hydrogen is cheaper than distributing the production of it,' he said.
According to Mr Belloni, Europe needs to re-establish its global leadership in hydrogen infrastructure. Linde is already planning to create the 'German hydrogen ring road' - a network of 40 public filling stations on motorways that encompass the sites of all the main car manufacturers in Germany -allowing the practical testing of new hydrogen vehicles and technologies.
'The ring road could be extended internationally to 20 further European cities, including in the new Member States, and stretch for 10,000 kilometres,' said Mr Belloni. 'This vision can become a reality in Europe - we're calling on ministers and companies let us make a start together on building this infrastructure.'
Another business figure aiming to inspire stakeholders to redouble their efforts was Carl-Peter Forster, president of General Motors Europe. 'I am convinced that the era of hydrogen and fuel cells will come - the only question is whether it will come from Europe or to Europe,' he said.
Mr Forster argued that more public sector support is needed to ensure that opportunities are not missed. Specifically, he called for more funding for basic and pre-competitive research, support for demonstration projects, public procurement of first generation technologies, the development of harmonised safety standards, financial incentives for customers, and support for infrastructure development.
The public and private investments that are required will have a positive effect on the European economy, believes Mr Forster, creating new jobs and business sectors. And he reminded delegates that Europe is not alone in trying to build a hydrogen economy, with Japan and the US in particular investing substantial funds in this area.
'The vision [of the hydrogen economy] will require political leadership and the commitment of all partners to achieve. Those regions with the best regulatory environment, research funding and tax incentives will be the most likely to succeed,' he concluded.
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