EU study says hydrogen support needs to start now

(By David Ehrlich) - On the release of the report, the EU approved a €940 million public-private initiative to develop fuel cell and hydrogen technology.

A European Union report is calling for immediate support for hydrogen energy projects, saying member states could gain an ecological and competitive edge by starting work now.

Called the HyWays project, the study found that introducing hydrogen into the energy system would reduce the total oil consumption by vehicles on the road by 40 percent between now and 2050.

On releasing the study, the EU also approved the funding of a joint technology initiative to develop fuel cell and hydrogen technology.

“Without a European public-private partnership, the roll out of large-scale demonstration projects will seriously be hampered,” said the report.

“This imposes a serious threat, since the large-scale demonstration projects play a key role in convincing policy makers that hydrogen has to be supported starting now!”

The EU said the joint technology initiative will receive €940 million over the next six years, with half coming from the commission and the other half to be matched by the private sector.

But the HyWays report said there are substantial barriers that need to be overcome, ranging from economic and technological to institutional barriers.

Although the the initiative will be funded with close to a billion dollars, the HyWays report estimates that a lot more money will be needed.

According to the study, the total cumulative investment for infrastructure build-up will amount to €60 billion for the period up to around 2030. The report said 16 million hydrogen vehicles could be on the road by then.

“Hydrogen is one of the most realistic options for environmental and economic sustainability in the transport sector, in particular passenger transport, light duty vehicles and city buses,” said the report. “However, its introduction requires gradual changes throughout the entire energy system and thus careful planning at this early stage.”

The HyWays report said, “The transitional period offers Europe the opportunity to take the lead in developing hydrogen and fuel cell technology and its applications in transport and energy supply. The challenges are high and the right steps have to be taken quickly if Europe is not to count the cost of late market entry.”

Some recent advances could give a leg up to the use of hydrogen energy.

Engineers at Indiana’s Purdue University have been working on a new aluminum alloy that could generate hydrogen on demand by reacting with water (see Researchers and industry optimistic about hydrogen from aluminum).

And a new system from Penn State researchers copies the electron transfer and water oxidation processes that occur in plants during photosynthesis (see Mimicking plants to get hydrogen from water).

In addition to the need for cash, the HyWays report says some policy changes need to be made to support the new technologies, including tax exemptions for hydrogen as a fuel and for end-use applications.

The report said the additional costs of hydrogen vehicles have to be at least partly compensated for by tax exemptions or subsidies and that national and local governments should create early markets for the new vehicles.

Municipalities could buy zero emission vehicles for government services, said the report.

The study shows that a significant amount of money needs to be spent to get a working hydrogen economy in place, but it does see a break-even point in sight.

“The moment in time where savings of total costs of fuel and vehicle are higher than expenditure lies between 2025 and 2035 in nearly all cases analyzed,” it said.

If there’s hampered cost reduction for vehicle drive systems and a slow build-up of the infrastructure, which would lead to a long period of underutilization, the turn-around point gets pushed back to around 2040.

In the full commercialization phase, the study said costs at the pump in comparison to oil-based fuels won’t be relevant, as long as oil prices stay high.

And there aren’t any indications that the price of oil is going anywhere but up.

Today, crude oil rose above $100 a barrel to a record close in New York. The crude oil for April delivery was up $1.63, or 1.6 percent, to $100.86 a barrel at the close of floor trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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