Hydrogen fuel cell initiative

The European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform (HFCTP) – established by the European Commission – has held its first General Assembly in Brussels, formally launching the project.

This initiative, endorsed by the Commission in September 2003, was first announced in the September/October 2003 issue of ENS News. Its objective, as stated by the Commission, is: “to facilitate and accelerate the development and deployment of cost-competitive, world class European hydrogen and fuel cell based energy systems and component technologies for applications in transport, stationary and portable power”.

The specific aims of the HFCTP General Assembly, on 20-21 January 2004, were:

  • to spread awareness widely among the European hydrogen and fuel cell community about the platform concept, its structures and objectives;

  • to align ongoing and new activities (e.g. the Commission’s Framework Programme 5 (FP5) and Framework Programme 6 (FP6) projects, and national and regional programmes) with the platform's objectives; and

  • to draw conclusions and make recommendations for follow-up actions and the implementation of steering panels and initiative groups.

Ahead of the meeting, the European Commission drew up a list of about 350 participants and issued personal invitations. This was done in consultation with the European Union (EU) member states, and the HFCTP’s Advisory Council. The Advisory Council is charged with steering the technology platform and, in doing so, ensuring its strategic relevance within a global context and that its direction is consistent with EU policy.

In addition to Advisory Council members, the General Assembly participants comprised Commission co-ordinators; delegates from national and regional hydrogen and fuel cell projects, programmes and initiatives; the Member States Mirror Group (single representatives/experts from each member state and from trans-national organisations); as well as representatives from the EU institutions, non-governmental organisations, civil society and financial institutions.

In his address to the HFCTP General Assembly, during the plenary session on the first day, European Commission President Romano Prodi gave the initiative full political support, while carefully avoiding any mention of nuclear energy. His opening address was followed by keynote speeches delivered on behalf of Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio and Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. The Portuguese Minister of Science and Education, Mrs Maria da Graca Carvalho, represented the member states. A presentation of the objectives, structure and operations of the platform was given by the Advisory Council chairman, Jeremy Bentham (Shell Hydrogen), and the director of the European Commission’s Energy Directorate in Directorate-General (DG) Research, Pablo Fernández-Ruiz.

During other presentations, Jørgen Henningsen, speaking on behalf of Commissioner de Palacio, said that hydrogen was not the only pathway to sustainable energy. He reaffirmed the need to have a fresh look at the nuclear option.

Of particular note, during the afternoon of the first day, was the session addressing ‘Hydrogen Infrastructure’, which confirmed the following facts:

  • efficient storage remains the primary technical obstacle to the increased use of hydrogen. Incremental improvements will not do: a real breakthrough is needed for transport. This is illustrated by the fact that the energy density of hydrogen is only one fifth of that of oil.

  • further obstacles are: fuel cell reliability in terms of hours of operation and the costs of fuel cell and hydrogen production.

  • the production means – based on steam reforming of oil or on natural gas – will suffice for a long time to cover the needs of a slowly increasing share of hydrogen-based energy applications. The capacity is available (9 million cars – i.e. 5% of those in Europe – could be fuelled with 25% of the current hydrogen production) and fossil fuels are by far the cheapest hydrogen source. One can, in fact, establish an inverse relationship between hydrogen’s production cost and the amount of carbon dioxide generated.

  • major doubts concerning carbon sequestration were voiced by HFCTP Advisory Council member, Prof. Carlo Rubbia (Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment (ENEA)). This is because of the gigantic quantities to be considered (2.000 km3 to be stored for 1.000 years) and because of its toxicity (an atmosphere containing 10% of carbon dioxide would kill a human being in four minutes).

A conclusion drawn from the meeting was that nuclear energy certainly has a role to play in the production of hydrogen. However, the moment when the need for hydrogen reaches proportions justifying new, carbon-free production methods remains a remote prospect. On the basis of the information available today, it appears that the timescales involved will leave sufficient time to develop a High Temperature Reactor (HTR) specifically designed for this purpose.

The European Commission’s press release on the HFCTP launch is available.

Further information about the platform is also available on the DG Research website.


Home l Top l Disclaimer l Copyright l Webmaster