Industry and academia equal partners in billion-euro programme

A European Union initiative to pump nearly €1 billion of public and industry money into fuel cell and hydrogen research from 2008 to 2017 has been approved by EU member nations, with first calls for proposals expected in September.

The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative (FCH JTI), approved on 30 May by the Competitiveness Council of EU research ministers, was designed to strengthen cooperation between industry and public researchers in Europe. It is one of six JTI initiatives whose targets include nanotechnology and innovative medicines (Chemistry World  December 2007, p11). 

The European Commission is to contribute €470 million (£370 million) to FCH JTI during the next six years under the Seventh Framework Research Programme (FP7). An additional €470 million will be contributed by industry, represented by umbrella organisation New Energy World IG (NEW IG), currently with a membership of 64 firms that include heavyweights such as BP, Rolls Royce, Total France, Daimler and Volkswagen. 

The ultimate goal of the FCH JTI is to accelerate the development of fuel cell and hydrogen technologies in order to ’enable their commercialisation between 2010 and 2020’, according to the European Commission. Broad research areas - as indicated by NEW IG internal steering committees - will be transportation, hydrogen production and distribution, stationary power generation, and early markets. 


But many aspects of the project have not yet been decided, such as guidelines for how research money will be awarded and the role of academic scientists within the project. Another major issue is the structure of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), which is the legal entity providing a framework for public and private players to jointly implement a JTI research agenda. 

In an interview with Chemistry World , Gijs van Breda Vreisman, chairman of NEW IG, concedes that many details have not yet been finalised, adding that staff members are under ’tremendous pressure’ to craft strategy documents before a scheduled July meeting of the FCH JU governing board. 

’It is extremely urgent - lots of companies and researchers want formal documents to be public and the organisation to start,’ says Breda Vreisman, general manager for European business development for Shell Hydrogen, in The Hague, the Netherlands. Full details of the project are expected to be made public in October, he adds. 

Catherine Ray, European Commission spokeswoman for science and research, says that the first call for research proposals will probably be published in September, with a total initial contribution from the FCH JU of €28.1 million.  

Ned Stafford