The European Commission has unveiled an industrial strategy that sees hydrogen playing a crucial role in Europe’s transition to a sustainable future.
Until now, the biggest challenge for hydrogen energy has been its cost. According to a recent report, entitled Path to Hydrogen Competitiveness: A Cost Perspective, launched by the Hydrogen Council, scaling up hydrogen production, distribution, equipment and component manufacturing could decrease the cost of hydrogen solutions by up to 50% by 2030.
Europe is in the early stages of its energy transition to decarbonise all aspects of our daily lives. With the newly-launched Clean Hydrogen Alliance, a key component of a vast Industrial Strategy, the European Commission aims to accelerate the decarbonisation of industry and maintain its industrial leadership.
Over the past decade, the European Commission has promoted several research and innovation projects on hydrogen within the Horizon 2020 framework. The Clean Hydrogen Alliance is expected to be modeled on the European Battery Alliance, which gathers more than 200 companies, governments and research organizations around battery manufacturing. It will also capitalize on the work of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, a public-private partnership between the European Commission, Europe’s fuel cell and hydrogen industry and research organisations.
More than anything, the Clean Hydrogen Alliance aims to ensure Europe’s energy independence and contribute to the global efforts in the fight against climate change.
Making Europe climate neutral by 2050
The ten years to 2019 were the warmest on record, according to data collected by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the UK Met Office. The situation needs to be reversed, and it is crucial to reduce carbon emissions from industry, air transportation and road-freight.
The 2015 Paris agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C, offers hope for a change of course. In November, the European Commission adopted a resolution that set climate neutrality by 2050 as its long-term goal and increased its emission reduction target to 55 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
“I see the climate transition as a huge opportunity for the European economy,” declared Ursula von der Leyen, EC’s president. “We want climate neutrality, and we will shape it with our own capacity for innovation.” Moving to the strategic implementation, she said, “We created a public-private partnership on hydrogen. Europe is one of the global leaders on hydrogen stations and fuel-cell buses, and we can develop and deploy clean technologies that the whole world will want to adopt to cut pollution.”
For that, Europe has to go through an industrial transformation.
Maintaining industrial competitiveness
In the face of competition from China and other regions, it has become essential to support and improve Europe’s industrial competitiveness. Europe needs a clear industrial vision for 2030 and beyond, and a new partnership to turn its ambition into reality, the European Commission said in a statement.
“Managing the green and digital transitions and avoiding external dependencies in a new geopolitical context requires radical change -and it needs to start now,” commented Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services.
As part of the measures, Europe’s industrial and strategic autonomy will be enhanced by securing the supply of raw materials and by supporting the development of strategic digital infrastructures. An intellectual property action plan will be put in place to uphold technology sovereignty. SMEs will also contribute to building Europe’s industrial fabric by “providing two out of three jobs.”
Enabling a zero emission society
Hydrogen is an energy vector that has the dual advantage of being both clean and abundant on Earth. It can be used to store and transport energy, Milan Rosina, principal analyst, power electronics & batteries, Yole Développement (Lyon, France), told EE Times Europe, citing “energy storage using electricity conversion to hydrogen and then back to electricity, as it is done in stationary fuel-cell energy storage systems or in fuel-cell electric cars like Toyota’s Mirai.”
Hydrogen benefits, Rosina noted, should be considered in comparison to alternative solutions. “Hydrogen can be used in high-pressure tanks for long periods, compared to batteries that are costly and discharge over time.” Regarding long-distance transportation, Yole’s analyst said there are already suitable solutions to transfer directly electricity over distances of up to a few hundred kilometers. “Hydrogen transportation via dedicated pipelines would likely be a pretty costly and complex solution to put in place. Today, hydrogen is mainly transported by trucks, which is not sustainable, especially when considering high volume applications.”
We are moving towards a zero emission society, but we are not there yet. “Hydrogen is just one of the means how to store and transport energy, but the future will show to which extent hydrogen will be competitive compared to other means such as battery energy storage,” said Rosina. And “clean” in “clean hydrogen fuel technologies” does not really mean zero carbon dioxide emission. “It is the same as for battery-powered electric vehicles,” Rosina said. “A battery-powered electric car generates no CO2 under operation, but the overall environmental impact has to be evaluated, including battery manufacturing, generation of electricity for battery charging, and finally battery recycling at the battery life end.” In the case of hydrogen, he continued, it is important to consider “how hydrogen is produced, what are the losses in fuel cell system and manufacturing/disposal/recycling of hydrogen tanks and fuel cell stacks.”
Amongst the key success factors for EU’s Clean Hydrogen Alliance, Rosina cited the increase of clean hydrogen generation share, the reduction of hydrogen generation cost and the increase of “still low fuel-cell stack efficiency”.