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Fuel cells could boost Europe’s energy security, conference hears

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Europe could boost its energy security through existing hydrogen and fuel cell technology, according to industry experts.

The discussion took place at a recent conference in Tallinn, Estonia titled The Role of Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technology in Delivering Energy Security for Europe. The conference was organized by Estonia’s National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics (NICPB), Finnish technical research centre VTT and European solid oxide fuel cell company Elcogen, which makes micro- and industrial fuel cell combined heat and power (CHP) systems.

According to the conference speakers, existing hydrogen and fuel cell technologies have proved their potential for Europe’s energy mix but the challenge is now to ensure their large-scale market adoption.

Needed to achieve this aim are further research into reducing costs and durability, continuing current European co-operation across industry, academia and government, ensuring that public funding is maintained, and focusing such funding towards addressing issues involved in implementation, commercialization and mass manufacturing.

Conference speaker Prof Robert Steinberger-Wilckens of the UK’s University of Birmingham said the main issue for Europe was “energy imports which we have to get away from.

“Integrating more renewables is the key, with hydrogen being one of the options for storage.

“The other thing is the threat to infrastructure, whether that’s natural disaster or storms or malignant interference. In Germany there was a snowstorm, three or four years ago, and some parts of the country were without any energy supply for three weeks in winter. In a case like Florida where everything is flooded, decentralized energy production could have helped – it makes the whole energy system much more resilient.”

And Enn Õunpuu, CEO of solid oxide fuel cell manufacturer Elcogen, added that “to be independent of imported primary energy we should increase local production. Storage is still a challenge and, although batteries are seen as the main storage technology, fuel cells and solid oxide fuel cells in particular are the most efficient technology for electrolyzing and storing energy in the form of hydrogen.”

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