f-cell: Exclusive interview with Bart Biebuyck, FCH JU Executive Director

f-cell: Exclusive interview with Bart Biebuyck, FCH JU Executive Director

Members of the hydrogen and fuel cell community are gathering this week in Stuttgart, Germany for the annual f-cell event, which discusses what the future of hydrogen and fuel cell technology will look like.

To mark the two-day event, which started today, H2 View is bringing you an exclusive interview every day this week with f-cell speakers and exhibitors, as well as other members of the hydrogen and fuel cell community.

Today’s interview is with f-cell speaker Bart Biebuyck, who is the Executive Director of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU).

The FCH JU, a public-private partnership between industry, research and the European Commission, has created low-carbon and sustainable solutions, enabled market entry for new products, developed ‘next generation’ products based on previous research, and opened new markets for European expertise in fuel cell and hydrogen technology.

Market uptake from public authorities, major companies and citizens alike has boosted confidence in these clean technologies, establishing hydrogen as a cornerstone of Europe’s energy transition.

As Biebuyck tells us more about below, he is speaking later this morning in f-cell’s Opening Plenary about demonstrating sectorial integration through hydrogen valleys.

Q. You’re a speaker at the upcoming f-cell event in Germany. What can attendees look forward to from your presentation?

I will speak about how we work together with cities and regions to make hydrogen an integral part of their decarbonisation plans and help them realise their emission reduction targets, improve local air quality and stimulate growth and jobs.

This long-term collaboration will eventually lead to the creation of more complex or simple partnerships, according to their level of readiness – from the funding of a H2 Valley to project development assistance or collaboration within a joint platform. They are all very interesting, but you will find out more at the conference!

Q. Tell us about a recent exciting or inspiring hydrogen-related project run by the FCH JU?

I find all our projects very inspiring and exciting, so that’s a difficult choice. One story that would resonate with many people is how the FCH JU has played a pivotal role in the commercialisation of hydrogen-fuelled buses in Europe, by funding several demonstration projects and bringing together key stakeholders on the supply and demand side.

In particular, to address cost reduction and open the gate to market deployment, the FCH JU’s latest bus projects, JIVE – the Joint Initiative for Hydrogen Vehicles across Europe – and its follow-up JIVE 2, aim to increase volumes.

Combined, the JIVE projects will deploy nearly 300 fuel cell buses in 22 cities across Europe by the early 2020s—the largest deployment in Europe to date.

To put things in perspective, there are currently more than 50 FCH JU-supported fuel cell buses on the roads around Europe and this number will rise to close to 400 with the JIVE and JIVE2 projects.

The aim was to demonstrate hydrogen fuel cell technology’s reliability and financial viability, bring down costs and build the investor confidence needed to upscale this technology use across the sector.

When we first started our work with fuel cell buses back in 2010, the cost of the first buses were €1.8m each. It was very, very expensive and nobody really had an interest at that time because it was so expensive.

Today we have reduced the cost to about a third of the original price and a fuel cell bus costs somewhere around €550,000 and the price will continue to drop, as long as we continue to scale-up.

We have created a lot of interest in it and I am happy that our initiative is followed up under the EU’s Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), with the H2Bus initiative. The potential is there for the European fleet to expand to 1,000 buses, which would bring down costs to a level competitive with hybrid vehicles.

“It is amazing to see the enormous progress that fuel cell and hydrogen technology has made. However, the regulatory framework needs to keep up with the technological developments”

Q. What hydrogen-related innovation, application or technology makes you excited for the future?

Developing the technology for heavy-duty applications is a challenging and exciting endeavour at the same time, and we are looking forward to this new chapter.

Heavy-duty transport needs to decarbonise, and hydrogen must contribute to this process if we look at the strict emissions targets recently agreed by the EU. That is why, on one hand, our focus during the next years will be the heavy-duty vehicles, such as trucks, trains or even planes.

We would also like to see the development of more powerful and more efficient electrolysers, which is why we have supported a series of projects designed to improve electrolysers.

Their capacity has increased from 100kW, with project Don Quichote in 2011, to 6MW in the 2016 H2FUTURE project and we will not stop there. Scaling up is key in all our activities.

Q. What are the major obstacles to overcome before hydrogen fuel cell technology is rolled out to the mass market?

It is amazing to see the enormous progress that fuel cell and hydrogen technology has made. However, the regulatory framework needs to keep up with the technological developments.

To support market acceleration, it will be important to have all the regulations in place, like the Renewable Energy Directive (RED2), and to be able to align the roll out of hydrogen refuelling stations and vehicles, so that both are equally developed.

Last, but not least, we must continue to do more research in order to bring the costs down.

Q. Finally, if you could leave our readers with just one message about the hydrogen economy, what would it be?

Green hydrogen is essential to achieve the Paris climate goals. The hydrogen economy can drive the energy transition in Europe.

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