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Fighting climate change with hydrogen technologies should be the main issue of the European elections

The people of the United Kingdom are lucky that they have a chance to vote in the Euopean parliamentary elections of 2019. If Theresa May and the Brexit wing of her party had had their way, then the United Kingdom would have left the EU on 29th March this year, excluding the British people from the opportunity to participate in European democracy. However the debate during the European election campaign must go beyond whether the UK leaves or stays in the EU, because the threat of climate change is even more dangerous than Brexit.

British participation in the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCHJU) is essential if the United Kingdom wants to fight climate change and build a post carbon economic future for itself. If the UK leaves the EU, then it is difficult to see how the country could continue being involved with the FCHJU, which is a European partnership. The purpose of the FCHJU is to make clean energy a reality, improve air quality, and reduce CO2 emissions by implementing hydrogen technologies coupled to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, tidal, and wave power, while at the same time developing a new industry which will create employment.

The key to this new industry is “green hydrogen” produced by electrolysis using electricity from renewable sorces. Today modern PEM electrolysers allow electricity to be stored as hydrogen, so the energy source can be used when the supply from renewables does not meet demand. Research projects funded by the FCHJU have allowed electrolysers to become more powerful and efficient. According to a brochure produced by the FCHJU: “The second strand relates to FCHJU projects that have demonstrated the increasing power of electrolysers. This has risen from 100 KW, with project Don Quichote in 2011, to 6MW in the 2016 H2Future project.”

We are living through a hydrogen technology revolution, which is going to make diesel and petrol burning internal combustion engines obsolete, as more and more cars are built in the form of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). If the United Kingdom is not a partner in the process, it will be left behind. When a Japanese car manufacturer is looking for a location to build FCEVs for the European market, it will choose a country involved in the FCHJU, because the FCHJU is a collaborative partnership of the European Commission, industry, and research, which is developing hydrogen transport and refuelling infrastructure.

The United Kingdom’s involvement with the FCHJU is essential in order for the country to meet its net-zero-emissions targets by 2050. Several important projects in the UK have already benefitted from FCHJU finding such as the BIG HIT project on Orkney. BIG HIT works in partnership with the European Marine Energy Centre Ltd (EMEC) in Orkney. The Orkney Islands are already self sufficient in electricity produced by tidal and wave power. BIG HIT follows on from the Orkney Surf n’ Turf initiative, producing hydrogen from wind and tidal energy using a 1MW capacity electrolyser on Shapinsay and a 0.5MW electrolyser on Eday. The hydrogen is then stored as a high pressure gas in tube-trailers which are transported by ferry to Kirkwell, where the gas is used to heat and power buildings and as fuel for a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles used by Orkney Islands Council.

Only political parties that are committed to the UK remaining within the EU could make a positive contribution to politicies that will help Europe fight climate change. The policy of the Eurpean Parliament should be to phase out all fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas across Europe before 2050. This can only be achieved if new green industies are created in the former coal and steel industrial regions of Europe to create employment and save the environment. The first policy of the newly elected European Parliament should be to ban shale gas fracking in Europe, and allow the green hydrogen industry to grow as part of the energy transition process.


©Jolyon Gumbrell 2019

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