An advocate for clean hydrogen

Frans Timmermans
Frans Timmermans, © European Commission

Although the European Commission funded many hydrogen and fuel cell projects in the last several years, the industry sector was rarely mentioned in Brussels. That changed in 2019, when high-ranking German politicians started taking a second look at the technology.

And soon after German economy minister Peter Altmaier said Germany needs to become the world‘s leading market for hydrogen, Ursula von der Leyen, the EC’s new president, unveiled the European Green Deal at the UN Climate Change conference in Madrid, where her plan drew considerable media attention. She also brought an advocate for a hydrogen economy on board, Frans Timmermans, who she appointed executive vice president for the Green Deal and commissioner for climate action. H2-international recently spoke with Timmermans about the prospects for a Europe-wide hydrogen economy.

H2-international: Mr. Timmermans, you served as the Netherlands’ foreign minister from 2012 to 2014 and the European commissioner for regulatory improvements thereafter. What was it that sparked your interest in the energy market and in climate action, especially hydrogen?

Timmermans: My interest in the European project goes back a long way. I come from a border town in the Netherlands and I have lived in several countries. I have always been fascinated about what Europe means to people. It is more than an economic union; it is a union of values and a shining example of how voluntary cooperation can make us stand taller and stronger in the world. However, the raison d’être of the past century, never again war, does not necessarily resonate as strongly today, even if I believe this promise we made to ourselves should be cherished throughout the ages.

These days, however, I am convinced that there is another good reason for the European Union to prove why we really need to work together to tackle one of the greatest generational challenges ever, namely the transition to a clean and sustainable economy. We owe this not just to the planet but to ourselves and our children. The Covid-19 virus outbreak has also laid bare how fragile we are and that protecting our natural ecosystem will be key to boosting our resilience and preventing future pandemics.

If left unchecked, climate change will have dire consequences for the environment, our health and our future. Citizens across the European Union have repeatedly called on us to do something about it. We must act, as the choices we make today will define our future. We must change our energy and transportation systems, the way we build, eat, work and the way we live. We need to deepen our scientific understanding, encourage innovation, and push forward with developing renewable technologies to leave following generations a cleaner planet. And throughout all of it, I firmly believe in hydrogen as one of the key solutions to these challenges.

Could you briefly tell us what you and Ursula von der Leyen want to accomplish with the Green Deal?

Timmermans: First and foremost, the Green Deal is Europe’s new growth strategy. We want to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society based on a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy with no net greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 and growth decoupled from resource consumption. The Green Deal also aims to preserve and enhance the EU’s natural landscape and protect the health and well-being of its citizens by eliminating pollution and other environment-related risks. Our children and grandchildren should not have to worry about the quality of the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.

What role should hydrogen have in this?

read more in H2-international August 2020

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