Interview with Klaus Bonhoff from NOW

Klaus Bonhoff

Klaus Bonhoff has managed the activities of the National Organization Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW) since its founding in 2008, making him the face of the German H2 and fuel cell industry. He has travelled around the world, patiently explained strategies and made the case for greater commitment. But he has also had to face criticism whenever projects were not implemented as quickly as had been hoped. H2-international spoke with the chair of NOW during the Hanover trade show in April 2016 about the National Innovation Program Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP 1 and 2), the H2Mobility Conference, the obstacles surrounding the implementation of projects as well what motivates him personally in his work.

Mr. Bonhoff, several things have happened recently: First, there was the Callux Closing Conference, then the H2Mobility Conference, followed by the discussions about the new direction of the Clean Energy Partnership and H2 Mobility Germany, and finally the Showcase Conference. I think this would pretty much be the right time to look back at what has been achieved so far.

Bonhoff: Yes, although the actual conference on the results – “What we have accomplished during NIP 1” – is scheduled for the end of this year. It is true that 2016 was a transitional phase. There’s a lot going on right now. One can see that the industry is in an optimistic mood. The last one, two years have helped clear up certain things. The industry has a relatively precise idea of where it wants to go next. But, of course, there are still some unanswered questions and open issues about the general framework.

You’ve been managing NOW since its inception in 2008. Just this spring, you renewed your contract for a second time, something that has gone relatively unnoticed.

Bonhoff: Correct. I’ve been chairing NOW for the past years and am looking forward to continuing my work, putting every effort into advancing our cause.

And what about the extension of the National Innovation Program as well as the National Organization for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology? Just like NIP, NOW was originally supposed to end in 2016.

Bonhoff: The key issue was the extension of NOW’s run time as a program management organization of the federal government. Last December, the managing partner had changed the business purpose in the registration in two instances: One of them was the organization’s run time, which has now been pushed back to Dec. 31, 2026. This means that NOW will continue through the end of 2026. The second substantive change was the organization’s extended business purpose. We had originally been founded to coordinate NIP, but that changed in 2009 when we were additionally tasked with coordinating battery-electric transportation for the federal ministry of transport. Now, our purpose of business has been broadened again by also covering the program design and implementation in sustainable transport and fuel cells for road and stationary use. This includes activities such as the accompanying infrastructure expansion, European guideline creation, etc., so that we can and are allowed to advise and support the ministries.

Was it difficult to push through the program’s extension and new direction?

Bonhoff: To be honest, no. The discussion wasn’t all that difficult. Of course, it’s a process where you need to adhere to formalities, but the political will to further advance the issues through NOW was there all along – both among the members of the board of supervisors and throughout the related political discussions.

What’s your personal motivation for staying on?

Bonhoff: Personally, I’d like to see that everything we have developed together during the last years has a successful future. We’re not done yet. Designing sustainable transportation concepts will remain a decades-long task. I don’t want to overstate the importance, but that’s my very own motivation to contribute.

You document your work at NOW in annual reports. The one from 2015 was as thick as never before. Have you been satisfied with both the quantity and quality of your work so far?


Some large projects did run into considerable difficulties – for example, Callux: 484 fuel cell heating units in eight years. What could you have done differently?

Bonhoff: I don’t quite understand why this should be the only figure to gauge the success of the program. I mean, in total, we have been able …

So now it depends on if and when the technology rollout program arrives?

Bonhoff: Yes, market ramp-up depends on whether the TEP is coming soon.

Could you maybe tell us when there will be a decision regarding the TEP?

Bonhoff: For that, you’ll have to ask my colleagues at the BMWi. My understanding is that the announcement will be made at EU level. The BMWi did say that the political will was there. Now, the formalities have to be observed. However, the program should arrive quickly, since the ones at state level have ended and because the things we can still do through contracting models in the framework of NIP, will only have a limited impact. That means I’d rather see it in effect today than wait for it being implemented tomorrow.

So still in this legislative session?

Bonhoff: Yes. The decision has been made; that’s what the BMWi has publicly announced as well. Now it’s only about the formal process that needs to be brought to a conclusion.

The next difficult sector: transportation: The overall number of delays has inevitably resulted in the issue being brought to the forefront time and again. Just recently, at the Public Forum, it was mentioned that the aim of 50 H2 filling stations would be accomplished no earlier than 2017. What’s it going to be? Do we get to 50 filling stations this year or do we have to wait until 2017?

Bonhoff: Our lists show …

At the moment, it doesn’t look as if companies over here are aggressively making a case for H2 and fuel cell technologies. How could the German automotive and energy industry be persuaded to rethink their approach, so that someone will at last leap ahead, so we see that companies actually want to?

Bonhoff: That the manufacturers want to make fuel cell vehicles – this I think became crystal-clear again recently, at the H2Mobility Conference, where they all …

Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, can cause a stir in the scene with one single tweet. There, you’ll see that he wants to.

Bonhoff: The comparison is difficult insofar as the purely economic prerequisites for a start-up, which gets money to spend most of it, are entirely different from a company which has to report to its shareholders each quarter and make enough to be profitable. This is exactly the dilemma in which we are: Disregarding all of the aforementioned for a moment, we have all in all not yet been able to translate the aims set and accepted by everyone (see COP 21) into a framework that would actually prompt companies to invest because the economic foundation is there. This is exactly the conflict we need to resolve: Clean energy, clean transportation, which we all want, must be economically feasible.

Would it not be the responsibility of politics to set the framework and targets in a way that fuel cell vehicles are being considered more favorably before 2020 or 2023?

Bonhoff: What’s clear is that the government …

Okay, let us go back to the NIP lighthouse projects. There was or still is e4ships – which is rather a non-starter. What went wrong?

Bonhoff: I wouldn’t call it a non-starter. Instead, I’d recommend taking a closer look before reaching such conclusions…

Meaning NIP 2 would also continue e4ships?

Bonhoff: That’s what’s currently on the table.

And the Clean Power Net would continue as well?

Bonhoff: Yes, it would.

It has lately been relatively quiet around the latter. Is it really realistic to assume that it could prompt a breakthrough over the coming years?

Bonhoff: The entire industry relies on fuels promising reliability and on fulfilling that promise. Proof is about to be provided…

Are there any concrete plans regarding such a fund?

Bonhoff: It’s mainly about pre-financing. The idea came from CPN and was discussed in different departments and at different events. I think it’s an interesting model, as it would help the industry we nurtured to become a global competitor.

What about energy storage, say, as the fourth pillar of NIP?

Bonhoff: We were more thinking along the lines of “power-based fuels,” as we believe that electrolysis and hydrogen are not storage technologies …

What exactly is planned for NOW at this point? What will remain, what will change?

Bonhoff: On the one side, it’s about continuity in R&D; nothing will change there. We hope we can continue to offer …

Now to our last question. Which size will a TEP or NIP 2 have? The BMVI has already pledged EUR 161 million for 2016 through 2018. Could that now possibly be followed by an increase to EUR 400 million?

Bonhoff: I would ask you to wait for the official announcements by the ministries. These EUR 161 million show that the BMVI is still committed and is devoting an increasing amount of financial resources to support hydrogen. And the economy ministry has always been unwavering in its commitment to continue supporting research and development as part of its energy research program on par with what it has provided so far.

Mr. Bonhoff, my profound thanks for this insightful interview.


PS: See also the new article: NIP 2.0 On Its Way

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