The European Hydrogen Valleys Partnership falls within this context. Fuel cells and hydrogen (FCH) technologies have the potential to play a key role in this energy transition process. Indeed, fuel cells and hydrogen provide a safe and competitive zero-emission solution for a growing number of applications, when produced as “green hydrogen” with renewable energy sources. By providing means of storage, hydrogen solves, in conjunction with other technologies like batteries for instance, the imbalance between energy supply and demand, therefore avoiding energy waste and facilitating the integration of renewable energies within the energy grid. To achieve the decarbonization of the EU economy, FCH technologies are, thus, a promising solution which needs to be further deployed.
The key objectives of the partnership are the following:
- Develop the technological readiness and the commercial availability of FCH applications
- Overcome the lack of access to information and expertise in the field hydrogen
- Facilitate match-making and co-investment between European regions
- Strengthen the value chain for FCH technologies via interregional cooperation
- Contribute to the decarbonization of the EU’s economy
- Green the production of hydrogen
- Be an active stakeholder on EU policy making on hydrogen
The use of hydrogen as an energy vector can enable renewable energy sources to supply the required energy demands at scale for a broad array of applications. Integrating and managing all of these at the same time is emerging as one of the key challenges in the introduction and commercialisation of hydrogen and fuel cells. This also implies that generation of clean hydrogen from renewables will be the preferred production method, while its usage for transport, industrial uses and everyday energy uses (i.e. heating and cooling for residential, commercial and industrial sectors) will all be considered.
The FCH JU Regions and Cities Initiative has shown that most FCH regional deployment plans have a clear focus on the transport sector, within which the focus applications are long-distance coaches, public transport buses, trains, garbage trucks, cars and delivery vans (but other mobility sectors are also concerned, such as maritime applications or heavy-duty trucks). This can be explained by the fact that the technological maturity and commercial development of FCH transport applications is particularly advanced. It is also a key factor to improve air quality and to reduce local GHG emissions. Furthermore, regions and cities have several levers to take direct action in the transport sector, e.g. by converting public fleets, greening public transport, investing in local HRS networks and establishing different kinds of incentives for zero-emission vehicle use. This trend has been recently strengthened by the recent political deal between the European Parliament and the EU Council to increase the share of green vehicles in public procurement by 2025 and 2030.
Heating and cooling accounts for more than half of the EU’s energy consumption. Nearly half of the energy consumed for such purposes comes from gas as the heating sector is based on an interconnected gas infrastructure, which delivers the energy needed to heat the homes. Hydrogen is a zero-carbon alternative to natural gas, which could be particularly valuable for the countries with extensive natural gas distribution networks. In this regard, the decarbonization of the heating and cooling sector in the long term might be reached by the introduction of renewable hydrogen in the gas grid.
Projects using hydrogen as industry feedstock are being pursued in several regions to green existing production processes and improve their GHG emission footprint. Today, the main use of industrial hydrogen is considered to be in the refining industry as a petrochemical for hydrocracking and desulphurization. In the chemical industry, it is used for various production processes, being ammonia production and fertilizer for agriculture among the most developed. Considering that petrochemical and chemical industry play a major role in the European industry, it is highly relevant to consider the decarbonization of the sector. Among other relevant uses for hydrogen as industry feedstock are methanol production and derived products, food processing and electronics sector.
The partnership will also consider horizontal issues, mainly training, education and skills.