Speech – Stakeholder Forum Fuel Cells and Hydrogen

Hydrogen and fuel cells can be a part of the solution towards a more sustainable society, especially regarding ‘zero emission transport’ and ‘the implementation of renewable electricity’.

As minister responsible for the implementation of the European directive Clean Power for Transport and responsible for energy in Flanders, the topic ‘hydrogen’ has an increasing interest and relevance for the Flemish policy towards clean technologies.

In Flanders we have about 3.3 million passenger cars. One of the characteristics is that we are the region with the highest share of diesel fuelled cars: more than 60% of the total fleet of passenger cars are diesel fuelled.

Therefore the Flemish government is developing a policy towards ‘greening the fleet of passenger cars’. Some financial incentives have already had some interesting results.

We have several reasons for developing this policy. Of course, this has a direct negative impact on the air quality in the dense populated region of Flanders.

In 2010 64% of all new cars sold were diesel fuelled ones, while in 2014 ‘only’ 41% of all new cars were diesel fuelled cars: gasoline, compressed natural gas and electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular.

This is the moment to give the market a kick start.

I am really focussing on working out a concrete action plan towards the European directive “Clean power for Transport’. I have spoken to all relevant Flemish stakeholders in order to implement clean power for transport in an efficient way. Regarding battery electric vehicles and compressed natural gas, the role out of an infrastructure and incentives for this kind of cars have been described.

But we also see recent developments of important automotive manufacturers on cars fuelled by hydrogen. The coming years, up to 2020, several cars on hydrogen will appear on the market. As minister I recently drove during a day a fuel cell Hyundai ix35 on hydrogen: it was breath-taking and unbelievable. I was driving a car which was exhausting water. It was just a normal car, but at the end of the day I could not fuel the car as for the moment, there are no public hydrogen refuelling stations in Belgium.

Therefore it is crucial to start facilitating a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in Flanders in order to get zero-emission cars on hydrogen on the road.

Last year, a study on deployment of hydrogen infrastructure and the definition of smart incentives for hydrogen fuelled cars, was carried out by WaterstofNet, working together with the University of Louvain-la-Neuve.

Based upon this study and discussions with relevant Flemish stakeholders on hydrogen, we concluded following guidelines for implementation of hydrogen in transport in Flanders:

  • Installing 20 hydrogen refuelling stations before 2020 in Flanders means a good coverage for Flanders: anywhere in Flanders the maximum distance to a hydrogen refuelling station will be 25 km. European guidelines state the range at 300km.
  • We prefer to make use of green hydrogen, as green hydrogen is in the end the necessary fuel for vehicles to be really sustainable
  • The target is to have about 800 hydrogen fuelled cars in Flanders in 2020, so about 40 cars for each hydrogen refuelling station
  • The results of the hydrogen buses in Antwerp will be used to define following steps towards the larger scale implementation of hydrogen in public transport in Flanders
  • International cooperation on hydrogen infrastructure is crucial and therefore Flanders wants to work together on the Benelux-level: therefore an agreement between the governments of the Benelux was signed on October 2015.

The main reason why I was appointed by the Flemish government for this assignment, is the impact of electric vehicles on the energy system. In fact, an electric car is a driving battery. A recent study of the university KULeuven showed that, if we would use 1 million electric cars as a battery for 1 hour each day, we could replace 1 nuclear reactor.

Smart large scale implementation of renewable electricity is one of the key issues for a more sustainable energy supply system in the future. Renewable electricity could be a good basis to produce green hydrogen for fuelling vehicles. For the public acceptance of hydrogen fuelled cars, we think it is very important to connect the hydrogen fuelled cars with the production of green hydrogen.

Although not many people link Flanders directly to hydrogen, Flanders has definitively strong local results and actors on hydrogen.

  • The port of Antwerp is one of Europe’s biggest areas for the production of hydrogen (coming from natural gas as well as being a by-product from chemical industry)
  • The centre of the largest underground pipeline transport network of hydrogen is situated in Antwerp: the hydrogen network is owned and exploited by Air Liquide
  • Flanders is home to a rather overarching industrial value chain on hydrogen with companies:
    • Van Hool is a major supplier for fuel cell buses
    • Hydrogenics is a major supplier for hydrogen generators
    • Air Liquide owns a unique hydrogen network
    • Borit supplies materials for fuel cells and electrolyser to OEM’s
    • Colruyt Group is a producer of green electricity and is a dedicated demonstrator/ end user for hydrogen technologies

Recently following demonstration projects on hydrogen were realised:

  • 1 MW fuel cell plant on by-product hydrogen at Solvay;
  • 5 hydrogen buses (Van Hool) using by-product hydrogen in a dedicated HRS in Antwerp
    • The name of this project is High-Vlocity, being supported by the European Joint Undertaking Fuel Cells and Hydrogen.
  • 11 forklifts on hydrogen at Colruyt;
  • 1 HRS at Colruyt site, built by Hydrogenics, using renewable electricity for the production of hydrogen;
  • Demonstration of new hydrogen production technology combined with forklifts on hydrogen and a hydrogen fuelled fuel cell in a smart concept.
    • The name of this project is Don Quichote, being supported by the European Joint Undertaking Fuel Cells and Hydrogen program.
  • In 2015, 4 Hyundai iX35 on hydrogen were put into operation in Belgium;
  • The first public HRS near Brussels will be built in 2016 by a combination of Toyota Motor Europe and Air Liquide.
    • This hydrogen refuelling station is part of the SWARM-project, also a project of the Joint Undertaking Fuel Cells and Hydrogen.

Flanders is on its way to become one of the European leading regions on hydrogen. As Flanders has strong hydrogen actors and some strong references, it will be the ambition of Flanders to enlarge its activities on hydrogen, as well as by supporting regional industry, as by becoming a leader in implementation of hydrogen fuelled vehicles based on sustainable hydrogen. I hereby invite all participants of this congress to invest in hydrogen, invest in Flanders, a region filled with opportunities.

I am looking forward to cooperate with strong actors like the Joint Undertaking Fuel Cells and Hydrogen group and WaterstofNet in the Benelux.

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