EU unveils €300 million plan to fund hydrogen research

The EU has unveiled the hydrogen projects that it will fund the research on in order to help develop Europe's hydrogen economy. [EPA-EFE/FRIEDEMANN VOGEL]

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The EU’s Clean Hydrogen Partnership, a public-private undertaking, has launched its first call for proposals on 41 research topics related to hydrogen. Much of the funding will go towards hydrogen production and storage.

As the EU commits to move away from fossil fuels, hydrogen is seen as a convenient way of transforming electricity from wind and solar into storable energy by using electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules.

Hydrogen can be used as a feedstock, a fuel or an energy carrier and storage, and has many possible applications across industry, transport, power and buildings sectors, which are seen as hard to decarbonise, the European Commission said in its 2020 hydrogen strategy.

By 2050, the Commission estimates that 24% of global energy demand could be covered by clean hydrogen. For the EU, estimates range from 9 to 14%.

On 1 March, the EU’s Clean Hydrogen Partnership unveiled its first call for proposals, which are part of a strategic research agenda covering 41 research topics ranging from renewable hydrogen production, to storage, distribution and transport.

“This momentous investment is essential to ensure the development of a dynamic hydrogen economy of diverse innovators, manufacturers, producers and end-users across the EU for a sustainable and prosperous hydrogen-based future,” said Bart Biebuyck, executive director of the Clean Hydrogen Partnership, a public-private undertaking.

The partnership’s new research agenda, adopted on 25 February, will see the mobilisation of €600 million for various research projects whose cost will be split equally between the EU budget and the private sector participants.

“This call for projects is €300 million of the €1bn of public funds that the Clean Hydrogen Partnership has available,” explained René Schutte, director of HyNorth, a branch of Dutch gas company Gasunie. “The call will be matched by at least the same amount of private funds and thus comprises at least €600 million,” said Schutte, who sits on the partnership’s governing board.

The funding will go towards pre-defined objectives set out by the research partnership, with the objective of scaling up Europe’s fledgling hydrogen economy.

Ten grants will go towards research on hydrogen production, including funding to boost the efficiency of solar thermochemical water splitting, as well as to develop “low temperature water electrolysers for highly pressurised hydrogen production.”

The focus on making hydrogen production more efficient and cheaper is somewhat a unique feature of the EU’s research partnership, Schutte said.

“The Clean Hydrogen Partnership is the only partnership that focuses on hydrogen production which is why a significant share of its budget is dedicated to such activities,” the Dutchman told EURACTIV.

The focus on renewable hydrogen production stems from the fact that “most of the hydrogen that is currently being produced in the EU and worldwide is produced from fossil fuels,” the partnership notes.

Strategic research and innovation agenda

Similarly, transporting hydrogen from producers to consumers is very much far from reality today. A full eleven topics will receive funding to address the storage and transport of hydrogen, such as improved leak detection in future hydrogen networks.

“On distribution a lot remains to be done in injection of H2 in the gas grid, liquefaction or protocols for Hydrogen Refuelling Solutions,” Schutte explained.

The rest of the research funding will be spread across hydrogen use in transport, heat and power, cross-cutting projects and hydrogen “valleys” where industrial consumers of hydrogen are coupled with production and distribution infrastructure to cover the entire hydrogen value chain in a specific region.

On transport, much of the focus lies on heavy-duty transport rather than private vehicles. As the EU believes that hydrogen trucks will have a significant market share beyond 2030, it has begun road testing trucks to decarbonise road transport.

“Concretely, in the Call 2022 alone we have launched a demonstration topic requesting 150 trucks on the road. This has never been done before and it’s a key stepping stone towards a mass roll out by 2030,” Schutte said.

But there is also research funding available for hydrogen use in aviation, a sector which is especially challenging to decarbonise. “We are also funding projects for the development of liquified hydrogen, fuel cell and storage systems for inland shipping as well as aviation,” said Schutte.

17% of new trucks in 2030 will run on hydrogen, EU believes

Hydrogen has had a busy year, concluded at the European Hydrogen Week in December with the re-launch of the EU’s public private partnership and EU transport commissioner Adina Vălean outlining her vision for hydrogen-based transport in the EU.

Hydrogen valleys

The research partnership is also putting its weight behind hydrogen valleys, which some see as pivotal to kickstart the hydrogen economy.

“We believe that valleys are a crucial instrument to demonstrate the benefits of our hydrogen ecosystem, and we are therefore very supportive,” Schutte told EURACTIV. “We aim to launch at least five innovative valleys throughout the Clean Hydrogen Partnership Programme. We have hundreds of stakeholders ready to support.”

In this first initial tranche of projects, one-large scale research grant coming in at €25 million and one small-scale for €8 million have been made available for pushing hydrogen valleys.

“Valleys represent more than 10% of the overall EU funding and we expect this will trigger large co-funding. To give you an idea, we anticipate that public funding of €25m could trigger up to €75m in investments from valley partners,” Schutte adds.

'Hydrogen valley' projects sprout up across Europe

Projects to create a full hydrogen value chain combining production, infrastructure and use all in one region are sprouting up across Europe, but more needs to be done to accelerate their development, according to supporters.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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