“We have a long and successful experience in green hydrogen”
Tilia Dahou, R&D consultant at Zabala Innovation, analyses the Clean Hydrogen JU call for proposals which closes on 20 September
Within the framework of Horizon Europe, the EU’s most important research and innovation programme, the Clean Hydrogen Joint Undertaking has launched its second call in 2022, which will close on 20 September. “From Zabala Innovation, not only did we get funding for the project we advised and presented in the previous edition but half of all the projects we submitted in this field at the European level were selected,” says Tilia Dahou, R&D consultant at the company.
What is the Clean Hydrogen Joint Undertaking and what are its objectives?
It is a public-private partnership institutionalised in the framework of Horizon Europe. Its members are the European Commission, the fuel cell and hydrogen industries represented by Hydrogen Europe and the research community represented by Hydrogen Europe Research. The objective is to accelerate the development of the European value chain of clean hydrogen technologies, thus contributing to the transformation of the current European energy system towards a more sustainable, decarbonised and integrated model.
Clean Hydrogen JU will contribute to achieving climate neutrality, one of the objectives of the EU Hydrogen Strategy. It will focus on supporting R&D&I projects and initiatives on technologies for clean hydrogen production, distribution and storage, as well as solutions for sectors where emissions are difficult to reduce, such as energy-intensive industries and heavy-duty vehicles. The European Commission has budgeted ¤1 billion for the period 2021-2027, complemented by a minimum equivalent amount of private investment.
How is your activity structured?
This partnership funds research and innovation projects identified through annual calls for proposals. The selected topics cover a set of priority actions in line with its objectives. In addition, the Clean Hydrogen JU carries out complementary activities to support the market uptake of hydrogen applications and strengthen the scientific and industrial ecosystem in this field.
What role can clean hydrogen play in our economic system in the future?
The energy sector is responsible for more than 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. To reach the EU’s climate neutrality target, the use of fossil fuels needs to be drastically reduced, replacing them as far as possible with renewable energy sources and other carbon-neutral or low-carbon fuels.
Hydrogen can be used as a feedstock, as a fuel, as an energy carrier and as an energy storage medium. Its potential applications are numerous: industry, transport, electricity and buildings. Most importantly, when produced sustainably, it does not emit CO2 and does not pollute when used. It is therefore an important element in achieving climate neutrality by 2050, as set out in the European Green Deal.
By improving its competitiveness vis-à-vis other energy carriers, research and innovation in cutting-edge technologies and the development of a geographically extensive infrastructure network, hydrogen will be able to play a key role in the energy mix of the future.
How can hydrogen represent a solution to the more immediate problems of fossil fuel supply from the conflict zones between Russia and Ukraine?
The European Commission has launched REPowerEU, a plan to make Europe independent of Russian fossil fuels well before 2030. Hydrogen can play a role in two of its three pillars: diversifying supply sources alongside fossil fuels and biomethane and accelerating the transition to clean energy.
In the short term, REPowerEU foresees the rapid deployment of photovoltaic, wind and renewable hydrogen projects to reduce gas imports by around 50 billion cubic metres, as well as the approval of the first EU-wide hydrogen projects by the end of this summer. In the medium term, by 2027, the European Commission will establish a modern regulatory framework for hydrogen and launch the Hydrogen Accelerator initiative to increase electrolyser manufacturing capacity to 17.5 GW by 2025, to supply the EU industry with 10 million tonnes of domestic renewable hydrogen production.
Two commitments with a high impact on this sector stand out. The first is to double the current number of hydrogen valleys in the EU over the next three years, the regional hubs where clean hydrogen production, transport and consumption technologies are developed. The second is to double the budget of the latest Innovation Fund Large Scale call for clean tech projects, including those based on hydrogen technologies, to ¤3 billion.
What are the differences between the Clean Hydrogen JU call and a standard Horizon Europe call?
In the former, all the conditions defined for Horizon Europe must be respected, especially regarding the eligibility of participants and their projects, the evaluation procedure and grant award criteria, or the legal and financial conditions of the grant agreements.
However, there are some additional conditions. For example, for some topics with actions carried out at a high TRL, significant involvement of industrial actors or end-users such as public administrations are expected. Therefore, the partnership has set an upper limit to the grant that can be applied for; this is not a flexible indicative value, but a maximum limit that cannot be exceeded. For some topics, at least one of the partners must be a member of Hydrogen Europe or Hydrogen Europe Research. For large-scale demonstration topics and flagship projects, the full costs of equipment and infrastructure can be declared, not just the depreciation over the life of the project.
What is new in the Clean Hydrogen 2022 call for proposals compared to previous editions?
The Clean Hydrogen JU has launched its first call this year, but it’s a sort of continuation of the previous calls, FCH Joint Undertaking. The scope of the research and innovation activities of the Clean Hydrogen JU is different from that of the FCH JU, focusing mainly on clean hydrogen production, distribution, storage and end-use applications of low-carbon hydrogen in sectors where emissions are difficult to reduce.
A new element of this year’s call is the creation of a Seal of Excellence. For the two topics of the Hydrogen Valleys, it will be awarded to applications that pass all assessment thresholds but cannot be funded due to lack of budget. It will allow these projects to increase their chances of finding alternative funding under other programmes, including those managed by national or regional authorities.
What topics are covered by the call?
Renewable hydrogen production (with a budget of EUR 48 million for four topics), storage and distribution (EUR 22 million, five topics), end uses for transport applications (EUR 7 million, one topic), end uses for clean heat and power applications (EUR 7 million, one topic), cross-cutting activities related to the safety of hydrogen technologies and applications and their understanding and acceptance by citizens (EUR 4 million, two topics) and Hydrogen Valleys (EUR 33 million, two topics, small and large scale).
What are the most important elements to consider when applying?
For each topic, only one project (or, in rare cases, two) will be selected. The competition will therefore be strong, and it is essential to prepare a quality proposal. In particular, the project coordinator must ensure that he/she has partners with complementary skills, which will enable the consortium to meet all the conditions foreseen. Projects must be in line with the European regulations and the partnership strategy and contribute to the achievement of all the expected impacts and results listed in the topic. Furthermore, they must be ambitious, especially in the case of flagship projects, which the European Commission expects to demonstrate the feasibility of clean hydrogen solutions on a real scale and to have a significant impact on accelerating the transition to a decarbonised economy.
What is Zabala Innovation’s experience in the field of green hydrogen in general and in particular in this type of call?
Two projects were submitted to the Clean Hydrogen Partnership call for projects that closed in May 2022 and are currently being evaluated.
In addition, beyond the Clean Hydrogen JU, Zabala Innovation has presented around twenty projects in the hydrogen field, including a dozen at the European level (Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe, Innovation Fund and CEF Transport, among others), of which around half have been selected for funding.