15 Oct 2008   |   News

Still moored at the JTI? EU fuel cell investment ‘disappoints’

Europe’s bid to lead the world in developing hydrogen and fuel cells risks failure because the planned investment is too little, the trade group Fuel Cell Europe heard.

Hydrogen fuel cell. Image courtesy www.fuelcells.org.

Europe’s bid to lead the world in developing hydrogen and fuel cells into a leading strategic energy technology risks failure because the planned investment is too little, said Marcus Nurdin, honorary president and advisor to the trade group Fuel Cell Europe this week.

He was speaking at the official launch of the European Union’s public-private partnership, or joint technology initiative (JTI), focused on hydrogen and fuel cells.

The EU will stump up €470 million from its R&D budget (FP7) on hydrogen and fuel cell-related research over the next six years. The private sector will match this, bringing the total initial investment to just under €1 billion, the Commission said in a statement.

It may sound like a lot of money – but according to Nurdin it is a small fraction of the amount identified in 2004 by the European Commission and private companies, including carmakers such as BMW, and energy companies including Gaz de France.

Together they formed the European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform, a precursor to the JTI unveiled this week. This grouping concluded four years ago that around €7.4 billion in R&D spending was needed over eight years to build the momentum to deploy hydrogen and fuel cells technologies in Europe.

Nurdin said most of his group’s members, which include Imperial College London and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft in Germany, as well as companies such as EADS, BASF, DaimlerChrysler and Shell, are disappointed by the more modest sums that Europe's politicians have agreed.

“There’s an enormous sense of frustration among most of the members,” he said in a telephone interview. “They are frustrated and angry at how the initiative has been dealt with and what will come out of it. Industry has already said it would foot half the 7.4 billion [euro] R&D spend identified. Now the EU is proposing just a little more than was earmarked for hydrogen research in FP6,” he said.

“We thought this JTI would help the European industry to catch up with the US but there’s little chance of that happening now,” he said.

Nurdin said the US Department of Energy has put in a request for $266 million for 2009 alone. On top of that the individual states are spending between $75 million and $100 million a year on hydrogen and fuel cell research.

No lack of ambition, says Potočnik

Janez Potočnik, the European commissioner in charge of science and research, responded to the lack of ambition charge by pointing out that much of the research in Europe is being carried out by individual member states in addition to what is being done at the EU level.

He described the EU-wide effort, involving the participation of industry, the research community and the Commission, as “a great success”.

“This JTI brings together the most significant players to put Europe ahead of the game in new energy technologies,” he said, adding that he hopes to see a snowball effect from the JTI in other strategic research areas.

The main aim of the hydrogen and fuel cells JTI is to speed up the transition from lab to market for crucial technologies that will help Europe achieve its ambitious goals for tackling climate change. The Commission reckons the JTI will reduce time to market by between two and five years.

The JTI should deliver “robust hydrogen supply and fuel cell technologies developed to the point of commercial take-off”, the Commission said.

For the auto industry the aim is to achieve breakthroughs in bottleneck technologies that will allow the industry to begin mass market production of hydrogen-powered cars equipped with fuel cells some time between 2015 and 2020, the Commission said.

Stationary fuel cells for households and businesses, as well as small portable applications such as phones and computers should come on stream between 2010 and 2015, if the JTI achieves its aims, the Commission said.


Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up