Brussels to Launch EU Hydrogen Fuel Partnership

Brussels to Launch EU Hydrogen Fuel Partnership

Later today, EU officials are reportedly set to announce the details of a new initiative to develop hydrogen fuel technologies in accordance with plans to see the bloc become carbon neutral by 2050

Plans for a “clean hydrogen alliance” are said to be in the works, as well as a new industrial strategy for Europe to follow the precedent set by the launch of the European Battery Alliance last year. The latter was cleared to receive €3.2 billion in public funds. 

As an EU official told UK media, clean hydrogen stands to become a vital resource for energy-hungry sectors such as transport, aviation and heavy industry. Given the growth of hydrogen sectors elsewhere, such as in China and Japan, the alliance represents a proactive move by Brussels to tackle global competition head-on, and is set to deploy a range of trade, procurement and competition policies.

The alliance is just one of a series of projects cited in preliminary drafts of the European Commission’s industrial strategy, of which internal market commissioner Thierry Breton sits at the helm. In a Paris interview, Breton described hydrogen as a vital technology for European industry in the years to come. 

“It will be strategically important for energy independence and the future of Europe,” he said. 

With Saudi Arabia and Russia in the midst of what looks to be an extended stand-off over global oil supplies, Brussels’ plans for a Europe-wide hydrogen alliance are steeped in both environmental and national security concerns. 

“Our job is to establish a vision,” continued Breton, “We need to provide a strategy because we need to give visibility for investment [in] the long term.”

Thus far, hydrogen cells have been the unsung heroes of the global transition away from fossil fuels. In the transportation sector, for example, government incentives for battery-powered cars have tended to overlook the potential of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, and vital hydrogen fueling infrastructure has not been prioritised.

It’s not just passenger vehicles that stand to gain from a growing appreciation for hydrogen energy; with their need for heavy battery packs and travel patterns revolving around a central base, buses and trucks could soon be powered entirely by hydrogen fuel-cells. 

Indeed, a 2017 report by Rolan Berger for the European Fuel Cells and Hydrogen (FCH) Joint Undertaking highlighted transport in two out of the five business cases for a shift to hydrogen energy. 

In the first case, heavy-duty transport involving trains, buses and large trucks were shown to be a major market for hydrogen technology. Automotive manufacturers, including Toyota, Esoro and Nikola Motor Company, are already researching this area. In the same way, bus makers Solaris, Van Hool and VDL are actively looking into products that utilise hydrogen energy. 

The second case showed hydrogen potential for light- and medium-duty applications, from delivery vans to construction equipment, cars to garbage trucks. In fact, a fuel-cell delivery van pilot by parcel service UPS was underway in Long Beach, California, as early as 2017. 

Earlier this month, the Netherlands wrapped up testing on a hydrogen train pilot after ten days of operations between the cities of Groningen and Leeuwarden. Trains successfully ran at speed without passengers, with refuelling made possible with hydrogen provided by French energy firm Engie. 

Joanna Eva is a London-based analyst and contributor with a range of clients in the risk consulting industry. She specializes in Asian political and economic analysis, having lived and travelled extensively in the region for close to a decade. She holds a Master of Law from the University of New South Wales and received her Bachelor of International Studies from the University of Sydney. She is proficient in English and Mandarin Chinese.

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