In June 2017, a consortium of German automotive and supply industries launched the “AutoStack-Industrie”, a €60-million, three-year consortium project to investigate the high-volume production of automotive fuel cell stacks. The consortium, led by BMW, comprises leading companies in the fields of automotive and fuel cell technology such as Daimler, Ford, Volkswagen, Greenerity, NuCellSys, Powercell Sweden or Umicore. The declared ambition is to finally move fuel cells from prototypes to mass-production capability.

This recent national initiative builds on the successful outcome of recent Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) research projects. The FCH JU is the main EU initiative established in 2008 and consisting in a public-private partnership between the European Commission, industry and research organisations to support R&I and demonstration activities in fuel cell and hydrogen (FCH) energy technologies in Europe to accelerate their market introduction.

One of the FCH JU flagship projects is Hydrogen Mobility Europe, focusing on hydrogen refueling stations for Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV). The H2ME1 project started in 2015 and will run until mid-2020. More than 300 vehicles and 29 state-of-the-art refueling stations will be deployed across Germany, France, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and the UK. The expected outcome of the project is the creation of a network of fuelling station where FCEVs can be refueled in 3-5 minutes, achieving similar time lapse as conventional petrol or diesel cars.

In its recent Communication, “Europe on the move – An agenda for a socially fair transition towards clean, competitive and connected mobility for all” published on 31 May 2017, the European Commission refers to clean energy for all transport modes and also recognizes fuel cells and hydrogen as an efficient conversion technology to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons. However, it comes short of proposing any specific new action to support fuel cell technology. Such new impetus may come from the European Parliament Environment Committee, who recently called on the European Commission to closely follow the development of hydrogen technology from renewable sources and to launch a feasibility study to determine the role and possibilities of this energy source in the European transport system.

Several industry associations are advocating for hydrogen deployment in Europe such as the European Hydrogen Association (EHA), established in 2000, which gathers 18 national hydrogen and fuel cell organisations, but also Hydrogen Europe (formerly known as NEW-IG), who represents over 100 companies and national associations in the fuel cells and hydrogen sector. On 20 July 2017, Hydrogen Europe and N.ERGHY (European association of research organisations active in FCH), decided to unite under the same banner to increase visibility and better promote these technologies. The new association aims at becoming a full-fledged European industry body with external reach comprising European National and Regional fuel cell and hydrogen associations.

Nonetheless, many unaddressed issues such as transport, storage, and availability of refueling infrastructures still hamper the development of hydrogen as a sustainable alternative fuel in Europe. Despite its numerous advantages, this promising technology still struggles to compete with other low-emission alternatives for transport. At a time where Europe is struggling to roll-out enough electro-mobility charging points, one can wonder whether public authorities will be able or willing to pursue a dual technology approach.

By Logos Public Affairs

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