Trans-Atlantic Fuel Cell Development Pact Signed

BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 16, 2003 (ENS) - The United States and the European Union today signed a cooperation agreement to develop fuel cell technology. The seven point plan, brokered by European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin and the U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, aims to strengthen research by bringing together European and U.S. researchers from public and private sectors. Key challenges for fuel cells to become commercially competitive are cost reduction, improved performance and durability.

In a keynote address to the European Commission's Conference of the High Level Group on Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies, Secretary Abraham called on EU member countries to participate in a conference this fall to formally establish the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy.

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U.S. Energy Secretary spencer Abraham (left) and European Research Commissioner Phillipe Busquin shake hands on the fuel cell deal today in Brussels. (Photo courtesy Audiovisual Library European Commission)
"Such a partnership would provide the best mechanism to efficiently organize, evaluate and coordinate multinational research and development programs that advance the transition to a global hydrogen economy," Abraham said. "I am convinced the partnership will speed the day when consumers everywhere can purchase a competitively priced hydrogen powered car."

Signing the agreement in Brussels, Commissioner Busquin said, "Through global scientific partnerships we can work together to develop fuel cell technologies to deliver viable, environmentally sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels."

"Today represents a landmark in energy research history," said Busquin. "With this agreement and the publication of the summary report of the High Level Group on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells, we have made real progress towards building a sustainable future for Europe, the U.S. and their peoples."

Abraham stressed the value of international partnerships in achieving progress in the energy area and noted the emphasis that both the United States and the European Commission have placed on their respective hydrogen initiatives as well as their mutual cooperation and achievements in this field.

"From his first days in office, President [George W.] Bush has focused on the significant challenges posed by our national energy and environmental needs," Abraham said. "Like many of the nations represented here, the United States has made hydrogen research and development a top priority."

A hydrogen fuel cell is an electrochemical device which converts the energy of a chemical reaction directly into electricity. By combining hydrogen fuel with oxygen from the air, electricity is formed in a fuel cell without combustion. Water and heat are the only byproducts when hydrogen is used as the fuel source. Unlike a battery, a fuel cell does not run down or require recharging. It continues operating as long as a fuel is supplied.

The agreement signed today also includes the development of other types of fuel cells besides those fueled by hydrogen such as methanol and solid oxide fuel cells.

In 2002, the European Commission established the High Level Group on Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies, which includes auto and transport companies, utilities research institutes, and policy makers, to advance the development of the hydrogen economy.

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Hydrogen fuel cell bus under evaluation in California. (Photo courtesy DOE)
The Bush administration established the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative to develop hydrogen infrastructure and hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles, and introduced the FreedomCAR program to develop automotive systems that would use hydrogen as a fuel.

"We are so committed that over the next five years the Department of Energy will invest $1.7 billion in research and development of hydrogen vehicles and hydrogen infrastructure technologies," Abraham said.

Europe's total public expenditure in this field is estimated at some 600 million (US$709.8million) for the 2002-2006 period for the European Union and Member States. Thirty fuel cell buses will be tested and evaluated in European cities over the next several years.

"Hydrogen can be produced using renewable, fossil, and nuclear energy," Abraham noted. "We are looking at all of these options. But we intend that all our hydrogen will eventually be produced using emissions free technologies. In our most recent budget, we propose spending roughly 50 percent on hydrogen production from renewable resources."

Abraham said he believes the hydrogen option is perhaps the most significant endeavor the energy sector will see in our lifetimes. "Working together with international partners, we can leverage scarce resources and advance the schedule for research, development, and deployment of hydrogen production, storage, transport, and end-use technologies," he said.

The agreement details the development of joint initiatives in seven fuel cell related areas.