Swapping ideas on clean fuels – but the technology must be harmonised

A forum to promote sustainable urban transport has been launched by the European Commission. Cities will use the CIVITAS forum to exchange ideas and experiences on clean vehicles, alternative fuels and policy measures. Meanwhile, a working group on hydrogen and fuel cells will steer the market’s shift to cleaner technology.

Nineteen cities have signed up to the CIVITAS programme that encourages innovative measures to improve urban transport. The cities have four years to implement radical steps to achieve sustainable transport systems.

UK cities Bristol and Winchester, Polish city Gydnia, Rome and Rotterdam are developing regulated central zones under the new scheme. Rotterdam is also investing in a LPG fuelling station, along with 60 new LPG buses and 148 converted ones. Austria’s Graz is converting its entire bus fleet and two-thirds of its taxis to biodiesel. France’s Nantes is introducing a new fleet of 155 CNG buses, while Rome is installing on-street re-charging facilities to encourage the use of electric scooters.

Stockholm is creating a logistic centre that will co-ordinate the deliveries of construction material to building sites, under a scheme proposed by Denmark (see related story) which is also being adopted by Gothenburg. Gothenburg’s system will favour trucks that are more than 60% loaded with goods intended for the inner city. The EU is contributing €50 million to the CIVITAS initiative.

The Commission has also launched a high level group of experts that will advise the EU on hydrogen and fuel cells. The group, made up of energy and car companies, policy makers and research institutes, will set the EU’s agenda for research and commercialisation of hydrogen and fuel cells in transport and energy.

“Today, hydrogen and fuel cells are too expensive, which is why we need a consistent approach at a European level,” says Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, who hopes to make the EU a world leader in fuel cell technology.

The EU needs a coherent strategy to help the transition to a clean fuel market and to help the sector achieve a better cost/benefit ratio, says Busquin. Issues such as fuelling, safety and common technological standards need to be addressed quickly.

Market studies on fuel cells predict annual growth rates of 40-60% in fuel cell-propelled transport over the next decade. The European fuel cell vehicle market should reach €16.3 billion by 2020, and €52 billion by 2040. However fuel cell marketing still has substantial technical and socio-economic barriers to overcome, such as the lack of hydrogen distribution infrastructures.

The USA is currently a world leader in fuel cell research, largely driven by defence and aerospace applications (see related story). The US government invests at least €150 million a year in clean car development. Japan is another world leader with a 28-year fuel cell programme to the tune of €2.4 billion. The EU lags behind, with an average €50-60 million per year invested in fragmented research, although the Sixth Framework Programme on sustainable development has a budget of €2 billion running to 2006, part of which will be allocated to hydrogen research.

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