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Frustration over continuing uncertainties

By Sven Geitmann

March 7, 2024

Image titel: Jorgo Chatzimarkakis

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Frustration over continuing uncertainties

Interview with Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, CEO of Hydrogen Europe

There is a lot that needs sorting out at a political level: A large number of industry representatives are waiting for politicians in Brussels and Berlin to put regulatory safety nets in place so they can make appropriate decisions about their investments. H2-international asked Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, Europe’s “Mister Hydrogen” and CEO of Hydrogen Europe, about the European Union’s revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED III) and its Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEIs). The interview also touched on Germany’s 37th Ordinance on the Implementation of the Federal Immission Control Act (37th BImSchV) as well as the recently revealed problems with fuel cell buses and their refueling stations. His guest article about H2Global appears on page 48.

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H2-international: Mr. Chatzimarkakis, fortunately the adoption of RED III didn’t take as long as RED II. What do you think of the outcome?

Chatzimarkakis: The adoption of RED III is a positive step for the hydrogen industry in Europe. It provides clarity and the basis for funding and developing hydrogen projects and applications. That said, it’s important that it’s swiftly implemented so that the sector has the necessary planning certainty to make investment decisions.

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The extremely arduous procedure for IPCEI projects has been a massive headache for the H2 industry. Apparently there should now be some movement. Can you confirm that and shed some light on it?

Yes, the delays in IPCEI projects have troubled the industry, caused by bureaucracy at either a European or national level. The consequence has been that funding recipients have to wait too long and then they back out. That harbors the risk that projects could be carried out in the USA, for example. We can’t afford to lose any time as the creeping deindustrialization process is accelerated by such unnecessary delays. To counteract this, I was able to get things moving for one process or another. The IPCEI initiatives are crucial for the development of the hydrogen economy and the funding of innovation. It’s important that the bureaucratic hurdles are surmounted so these projects can move forward.

What feedback do you get from your members? Do they regret having applied in the first place?

Some of our members have expressed concerns about the long delays for IPCEI projects. They have invested considerable resources in the applications and are waiting for the green light in order to move their projects forward. It’s understandable that they are frustrated by the continuing uncertainties.

What’s your advice? To forgo funding and start something quickly themselves or to continue to wait?

The decision whether to forgo funding and start independently or to wait depends on each company’s individual circumstances. However, it’s important that funding is released as quickly as possible to support urgently needed hydrogen projects and accelerate rollout.

Sadly, the production of green hydrogen is still associated with high capital expenditure and financial risks. Despite funding, the long-term operation of a plant for producing green hydrogen on an industrial scale is often not viable. That’s why we still need alternative hydrogen production pathways which can produce more competitively.

Let’s turn our attention to Germany: Many have been waiting a number of years for the 37th BImSchV. To your knowledge, when will there be a new ordinance and what, to your knowledge, will it contain?

It’s regrettable that the revision of the 37th BImSchV is taking so long. Unfortunately, I don’t have any precise information on when a new ordinance is expected or what it will contain exactly. However, it’s essential that the ordinance takes into consideration the needs of the hydrogen industry and the requirements for reliable and efficient hydrogen production.

Allow me to ask two or three questions about the open letter that Hydrogen Europe recently received (H2-international has a copy). In it, various high-ranking industry representatives from the JIVE, JIVE 2 and MEHRLIN project consortium ask for an “improvement to the hydrogen refueling infrastructure for FC buses.” Did you receive this letter?

Yes, we received the open letter. We take the concerns of the industry representatives very seriously. Improving the hydrogen refueling infrastructure for fuel cell buses is of critical importance to support the spread of eco-friendly means of transportation. Waste-to-hydrogen, in particular, could be a piece in the puzzle. That’s because the costs of production, for example from biogas, are two to three euros per kilogram. Combined with the GHG quota, that quickly becomes viable.

The letter also says: “The members of the consortium are convinced that FC buses can be a practicable option for public transport throughout Europe. They have proven themselves to be reliable and have been well received by both passengers and bus drivers. However, the consortium is of the opinion that the technical readiness and the capabilities of hydrogen refueling stations (HRS) fall well below the requirements for the operation of an FC bus fleet. The consortium believes that this represents a huge obstacle and a limitation for the commercialization and proliferation of FC buses and could in fact represent a challenge for FC vehicles across Europe and perhaps, indeed, the world.” You are urged in this letter to recognize the significance of this problem and to conduct talks with industry about possible solutions as a matter of urgency. What’s your response to this?

The consortium’s concerns are justified. We’re supporting efforts to improve the hydrogen refueling infrastructure for fuel cell buses. For instance, we and our member companies are actively involved in standardization in this area – for example with ISO and UNECE. It’s important that industry and political decision-makers work together to find solutions to this challenge and to ensure that fuel cell buses are able to realize their full potential.

What’s more, AFIR [Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation] is sure to have a very positive effect on the ramp-up in refueling. It obliges EU member states to build hydrogen refueling stations at central European intersections and in city hubs. We’ve calculated that up to 600 refueling stations in total will need to be built within the EU by 2030. That will give a considerable boost to users of fuel cell buses.

Does that mean you will address this problem – including in the interests of your association members?

Yes, Hydrogen Europe is actively addressing this issue and is advocating for the improvement of hydrogen refueling infrastructure. We are committed to representing the interests of our association members and driving forward the development of the entire hydrogen economy in Europe.

Interviewer: Sven Geitmann

Extracts from the open letter

“If there is something needed for the commercial operation of buses in public transport systems, then it is an HRS that is reliable and available for operation. This basic standard is frequently unmet at current refueling units. Almost all sites in the JIVE, JIVE 2 and MEHRLIN projects experienced considerable downtimes for the refueling unit, meaning that vehicles were not deployable.”

“It took many months to achieve a reliable and robust refueling process, and during that time numerous faults occurred in the course of the refueling process which took considerable time to be remedied by the supplier – and this despite the inherent redundancy of the station.”

“Consortium members report problems with a range of essential hydrogen dispensing equipment. These problems are surprising given the extensive experience of hydrogen handling in industry.”

“Furthermore, the problems and comments are similar to those reported in numerous projects in the early 2000s. It is remarkable and extremely disappointing that the performance of compressors for the refueling of FC buses has clearly not yet reached the level necessary for the operation of a commercial fleet.”

“The project sites have reported that data transmission is often interrupted which causes refueling to stop or leads to refueling taking longer than necessary. The sensor in the nozzle is not robust. If it fails, the entire fuel nozzle unit has to be replaced at a cost of EUR 10,000.”

“Significant problems occurred in buses when tanks were converted from Type 3 to Type 4. At least in some cases, this appears to be due to information from the bus manufacturers not being passed on to the HRS OEMs.”

“Indeed, the HRS availability targets of above 98 percent had already been met, e.g., by some sites in the CHIC project; yet this level of performance was only achieved with considerable deployment of staff and financial input, in other words with higher costs.”

“Commercial operators require their vehicles to be available whenever and wherever they are needed (and at reasonable operating costs). This is perhaps the most important variable considered by operators if they are contemplating investments in new or additional vehicles. If they cannot be certain that the vehicles can be refueled when needed, none of the plans for expanding the fleet of FC buses will go ahead.”

“It is our opinion that the continuing refueling problems must be resolved if the EUR 407 million that have been invested in FC buses over the past 20 years from EU public funds as well as funds from industry, bus operators, SMEs and research partners is to result in the long-term commercialization of the buses. We are convinced that they can be quickly resolved if they receive the necessary attention and the requisite resources.”

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