PARIS: The European Union on Wednesday proposed a project worth as much as €1 billion to fund development of hydrogen-powered cars. But environmental groups promptly criticized the plan as an ineffective way of promoting greener transportation systems.
Hydrogen produces no carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, when used in combustion engines or fuel-cell systems. EU officials said hydrogen technology should help Europe reduce emissions and shore up more secure supplies of energy.
The project "will bring a sorely needed billion euros to kick-start a real change," said Janez Potocnik, the EU commissioner for science and research.
The EU said it would contribute €470 million, or $664 million, to the six-year project and called on companies to match those funds toward the goal of creating commercial vehicles by 2020.
Sigrid de Vries, a spokeswoman for the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, said EU funding would help carmakers continue research into autos that combine hydrogen technologies with existing fossil fuel-based engines, and for hydrogen-only vehicles.
"This is a valuable project for environment-related research and development," said de Vries, who added that BMW, Daimler and Fiat were among those that would probably contribute.
Eurwen Thomas, a spokeswoman for Shell, said the oil company would give millions of euros towards helping to develop demonstration projects, including pumps to deliver hydrogen to drivers of vehicles powered by the technology.
The EU also announced plans to simplify the rules across the region to make it easier to put hydrogen-powered cars on the road.
"Setting common standards will support the introduction of these vehicles and ensure high safety for citizens," said Günter Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enterprise and industry. "It will also boost the competitiveness of European manufacturers."
The proposals still must be approved by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
Environmentalists criticized the initiatives, saying that producing hydrogen might take more energy to extract and deliver than it actually supplies. They also said that making hydrogen powered cars commercially viable could still take more than a decade.
"There are clear solutions to the environmental damage caused by vehicle emissions that will deliver real results in the short term, such as through the enforcement of ambitious efficiency standards or the promotion of hybrid vehicles," said Claude Turmes, a member of the European Parliament for the European Green Party. The EU, said Turmes, should not "hide behind smokescreens like hydrogen cars."
Jos Dings of Transport & Environment, an environmental group in Brussels, said other hybrid technologies and electric-powered cars were more promising than vehicles relying on hydrogen.Heather Daniell, a technology analyst with New Energy Finance in London, added that the price on some prototypes still was high - as much as one million dollars in some cases. She also said some hydrogen technologies already are more advanced in other parts of world beyond Europe - notably in California and the Canadian city Vancouver - where she said there are networks of refueling stations. "At the moment, every major car company has a hydrogen prototype," she said. "But much will depend on getting the infrastructure going for filling up hydrogen fuel tanks."
By James Kanter