“We are currently living through exceptionally challenging times … We now have a unique opportunity to build back better, create an economy that is fit for future challenges, is more competitive, inclusive, smarter and, of course, sustainable. Hydrogen is a key part of this journey,” said Henrik Hololei, Director-General for Mobility and Transport, European Commission, in his opening remarks at the PrioritHy one-day event recently.
Part of the European Hydrogen Week, the online event was organised jointly by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) and Germany’s National Organisation Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW) GmbH on the occasion of the German six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union. The event was organised with support from the European Commission and in cooperation with the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure.
Green hydrogen and fuel-cell technology has the potential to address the worldwide twin needs around decarbonisation and recovery from the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Political, research and industry leaders shared best practices for building a clean hydrogen economy in regions and exchanged views on how European and international cooperation can accelerate the transition to a climate-neutral European economy that supports growth and jobs.
The virtual gathering brought together hundreds of participants, with around 3,000 attendees signed up for each of the most popular sessions. Discussions covered European and national strategies – notably in the host country Germany – along with examples of experimental hydrogen regions, city and regional partnerships for hydrogen, national and EU funding, FCH and EU initiatives, and the role of international cooperation, with contributions from ministers in Chile, Morocco and Portugal as well as partners in Norway, the US and Australia.
Connect for cooperation
Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director of the FCH JU, emphasised the value of integrated approaches in his joint welcome with NOW. “The FCH JU and NOW have always worked well together on transport and digital infrastructure in, for example, the coordination of the funding of projects or in organising joint events like the Hannover Messe. The time is now for both implementation bodies to step up their cooperation and seek more synergies … deep cooperation will be the only way for Europe to keep its leadership.”
Kurt-Christoph von Knobelsdorff, Managing Director (Chair) of NOW, added: “The aim today and for the future will be to connect the dots between regional activities, on the one hand, and the international build-up of a hydrogen economy, on the other hand.”
Andreas Scheuer, Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) in the German Federal Government, echoed this theme in the first keynote speech. “I would like to encourage us to focus not only on national efforts, but to widen our perspective and find a global solution so that hydrogen becomes the wonder drivetrain of the future.” (…) “It is needed for growth, prosperity and jobs in Europe. We need a global partnership and that is one of our priorities.” He mentioned Germany’s cooperation with Morocco and Chile, European initiatives such as the Important Projects of Common European Interest hydrogen programme, and the value of targeted public investment and regulatory support for a clean hydrogen economy.
Henrik Hololei summarised the achievements and ambitions of DG MOVE in this field: “At the political and industrial level, everyone is talking about hydrogen as the fuel of the future.” (…) “I believe in hydrogen as a key solution for the future in making mobility and transport more sustainable across all modes. For the next steps, we need a common European effort to further develop innovative solutions and to bring them to the market.”
Maria de Graça Carvalho, MEP and Co-Chair of the European Parliament Sustainable, Long Term Investments and Competitive European Industry Intergroup spoke of the power of the FCH JU to connect activities: “They are already doing that to involve more regions in their activities. This has a lot of advantages. One of them is to open up participation, because we cannot leave regions behind.”
In the final panel discussion, speakers discussed the role of the EU in expanding the international hydrogen economy. They spoke of steps towards a clean-energy economic revival that is a win-win-win for consumers, businesses, and the climate.
• Tudor Constantinescu, Principal Adviser at DG ENER, said: “The Green Deal and the recovery plans are extremely important for Europe. The Green Deal is about making targets for 2030 more ambitious and not postponing our actions. This will also bring lots of additional investment in the next decade. This investment will be very favourable to hydrogen and very favourable for relaunching our economy.”
• Adam Mutwil, Head of the Unit for Electric Mobility, BMVI, looked at the practical steps: “Hydrogen strategies are popping up everywhere. Hydrogen creates fresh potential for industrial policy and can help the German and European economies deal with the consequences of the coronavirus crisis.”
• From Hungary, Ákos Beöthy, Head of Cabinet, Ministry of Innovation and Technology and State Secretary for Energy and Climate Policy, said: “Cross-border standards and cross-border operational rules will be necessary to ensure interoperability of markets for clean, low-carbon hydrogen. Strengthening EU leadership in international fora for technical standards, regulation and definitions in hydrogen is critical.”
• “We have been collaborating for many years on the technology … Even though there is a lot of excitement and exports and imports, we still have a lot to do to get to low-cost hydrogen. Not just the production, but also infrastructure, delivery, liquefaction – the entire value chain,” added Sunita Satyapal, Director, Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies, US Department of Energy.
• “If hydrogen is to play the role many hope it will play, we need to ramp up fast. For the next couple of decades, we think we need blue hydrogen from gas with carbon capture and storage but then our vast wind resources can be harnessed,” noted Bjørn Haugstad, Director General, Head of Climate, Industry and Technology Department, Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy
• Joseph Doleschal-Ridnell, Senior Trade and Investment Manager, Government of Western Australia concluded, “We can certainly benefit from a structured way to share industry and government policy lessons. Let’s not reinvent the wheel when we don’t have to and let’s avoid mistakes where there have been pitfalls.”
Klaus Bonhoff, Director-General BMVI, gave the closing remarks. “Hydrogen will play a major role in the future and we should focus on clean, green hydrogen … The young generation has high expectations of us to act powerfully and immediately.”
Biebuyck promised that the next FCH JU will help regions to leverage public funds for hydrogen infrastructure, raise citizens’ awareness of the technology to drive adoption, and set up a stakeholder body to advise on regulation that supports international partnerships.
For the complete remarks of these and other contributors over the day, the recording of the PrioritHy event will soon be available on the FCH JU website.