Europe Opens Hydrogen Fuel Testing Center

PETTEN, The Netherlands, July 8, 2005 (ENS) - New hydrogen storage and fuel cell testing facilities were opened Thursday at the European Commission’s Institute for Energy in Petten.

The new facilities are part of the European Commission’s attempt to provide policymakers and industry with independent evaluation of the performance of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, said European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potocnik, who presided over the opening ceremonies.

Maria van der Hoeven, Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Science, attended the opening.

“We are all aware of the need to find clean, safe and affordable sources of energy, as energy demand rises, and Europe becomes ever more dependent on imported energy,” said Commissioner Potocnik.

"Oil production will peak relatively soon; energy demand is growing – the equation cannot continue to balance," the commissioner said. "The European Union is currently 50 percent dependent on imported energy and this is projected to increase to 70 percent by 2030," he said.


Economist Dr. Janez Potocnik of Slovenia is European commissioner for science and research. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
This dependence leaves Europe vulnerable to shocks due to fluctuations in oil price, or problems in supply. There is also the environmental impact of fossil fuels to consider, Potocnik said.

Hydrogen and fuel cell technologies have the potential to offer cost-effective solutions to problems such as greenhouse gas emissions, air quality and noise.

The Commission, the EU's executive branch, sees hydrogen as an important part of the energy mix that will power the Europe of the future in place of fossil fuels. The transition to a hydrogen economy is a key plank of the EU’s long-term energy policy, for a whole range of uses from electricity generation to transport.

“The potential of hydrogen is very exciting and can provide one element of a future sustainable energy mix," said Potocnik. By developing these new facilities, the Commission is showing its clear commitment to exploring this potential.”

The new facility will simulate lifetime operational conditions of fuel cells and hydrogen fuel tanks, and conduct tests of the efficiency, safety, environmental impact and reliability of hydrogen systems and fuel cells.

There are two sections to the new test facility, Potocnik explained to the crowd at the opening. "First is the facility for testing of fuel cell stacks.

"While fuel cell technology is not yet mature, testing is ongoing, and developers have defined their proper testing procedures," the commissioner said. "But potential customers need to be able to compare performance and efficiency and therefore need standard testing procedures for real-life conditions. This is exactly what this facility is for – developing harmonized performance testing procedures."

The second section of the facility is for testing hydrogen storage in vehicle tanks. "Use of hydrogen as fuel in vehicles poses considerable challenges for its safe handling including storage," Potocnik said. "This facility will, therefore, help us address one of the most important issues connected to future daily use of hydrogen – safety."


Hydrogen powered scooter, cars and buses at Brussels' Cinquantenaire Arch (Photo courtesy HFP)
When hydrogen is combined with fuel cell technology to generate electricity, the only waste product is water. Hydrogen can be easily stored and transported and, in combination with fuel cells, it can provide energy in remote locations not served by the electricity grid.

Scientists at the Institute for Energy will simulate operational lifetime conditions on fuel cells under all foreseeable conditions from arctic to tropical and from motorway driving to navigation of forest tracks.

Realistic simulation of fast filling - 1,000 times at less than three minutes per filling - and slow emptying will be investigated.

Potocnik said the Commission has helped to establish the public-private coalition, known as the European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform (HFP). It brings together industry, public authorities and the research community to craft an action plan, outlining the concrete steps and measures required to move Europe towards a hydrogen economy.

"I had the privilege to discuss their progress and to be reassured that this public-private partnership can be very successful, just few months ago," recalled Potocnik, saying, "I should admit I also had great fun test driving hydrogen powered cars."

CEO of Shell Hydrogen and chair of the HFP, Jeremy Bentham, who attended the opening, has predicted that early markets for hydrogen products such as portable power generators could realistically be established by 2007 to 2010, with mass markets for hydrogen transport becoming a reality before 2020.

The Institute for Energy, part of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, provides scientific and technical support for the conception, development, implementation and monitoring of European Community policies related to energy.