Fuel cell car
© Daniel Barker/US Navy

Powering the future

The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen (FCH) JTI is focused on securing long-term clean energy supplies for Europe in addition to the reduction of greenhouse gas emission from the energy and transport sectors. The JTI, a form of public private partnership between the European Commission and industry, was launched in 2008 with a budget of €940m and has sought to overcome major technological and infrastructure barriers in meeting these goals. The PPP has centred on developing methods of producing hydrogen using electricity generated from renewable resources and on developing fuel cells that more efficiently convert different types of fuel into electricity. The JTI involves 1,100 participants.

Speaking at the ‘Joint Technology Initiatives – Innovation in Action’ event at the European Parliament in Brussels, and attended by horizon2020projects.com, Bert de Colvenaer, executive director of the JTI, began by outlining how FCH technology works.

FCH technology will encourage sustainability, competitiveness and security of supply. A fuel cell is basically an electric chemical converter of fuel directly into electricity and heat, rather than traditional combustion. The fuel we are using is hydrogen, a non-carbon-containing gas…it is a very environmentally friendly material.

“The FCH JTI programme has over the last seven years undertaken 127 different projects where we try to improve the technology in both making hydrogen and converting hydrogen into greener electricity – we want to make it cheaper, more durable and more efficient.”

A key challenge

De Colvenaer continued by outlining the importance of involving SMEs in the PPP, with 23% of small businesses participating in the JTI receiving 27% of the total budget, equal to €105m. However, the executive director detailed that the industry still faces one major challenge in the creation of new hydrogen-based energy products – the absence of a developed marketplace.

“We have one challenge to overcome: there is no market for fuel cells in hydrogen. It’s the chicken and the egg problem: there is no hydrogen, because there are no applications, because there is no fuel cell car, because there is no hydrogen. I believe that understanding the aspect of innovation is just trying to tackle that. Innovation is really assuring that any new development of the product is actually getting to the market and that’s why our community is focusing on that specific aspect. We are trying to ensure that this new technology, which is a very challenging one because in simple terms we are trying to introduce a forth energy vector, in addition to electricity, natural gas and petroleum, will get to market.”

The executive director said the JTI had received particular support from European policy makers, helping the PPP to deliver on its aims as well as highlighting hydrogen’s inclusion in the transport package. He also emphasised the importance of collaboration in the FCH’s successes.

“I believe this particular Joint Undertaking is key and also the most suitable instrument, because the key word is ‘joint’. What we see in our community is that companies that have never been working together before are joining forces – the petroleum industry, the gas industry, the car manufacturers and are talking to each other, trying to resolve this dilemma of market introduction. What we see is co-operation before the companies actually go into competition, because there will be no one winner in our community – we are all going to win together, that is what I hope.”

FCH2

The JTI will be relaunched at the start of 2014 will extra funding and a focus on developing “clean, efficient and affordable fuel cells and hydrogen technologies”, according to a Commission factsheet. It’s also hoped that FCH2 will help strengthen the EU’s international competitiveness as well as increase the number of products going to market in the fuel cell and hydrogen sectors.

The new JTI will have a number of targets, including: ‘reducing the cost of fuel cell systems for transport applications by a factor of ten’; ‘increasing electrical efficiency of fuel cells for power production by 10%’; and ‘demonstrate the viability of large scale hydrogen production from electricity generated from renewable energy sources’. Speaking in Brussels, de Colvenaer detailed his satisfaction regarding the FCH2 JTI and the importance of investing in energy storage technology.

“We are very happy to see in Commission proposals that we are set to receive an important increase in our budget, with a focus on energy storage. There is a lot of sun, which is very good during the daytime but there is nothing you can do with the sun’s energy if you can’t store it – energy storage is something mankind has have never come to terms with and we have never found a good solution to store energy in large quantities. The problem is not the availability of the energy, it’s the storage.”

The refreshed JTI will receive funding worth €1.4bn, with equal contributions from both the Commission, through Horizon 2020, and industry partners.

Fuel Cells and Hydrogen JTI