INTERVIEW - EU\'s Prodi says he\'s banking on a hydrogen future
BRUSSELS - With energy firms and green groups racing to find a fuel source which can wean the world off its oil dependency, Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, is banking on an eventual winner: hydrogen.
Gram for gram, hydrogen produces more energy than any other substance and produces only water and energy when burnt, making it the green fuel of the future for its supporters. But making and storing it is still far costlier than traditional fuels.
\"We thought that it was the right time to risk money,\" Prodi told Reuters in an interview late this week.
The European Commission\'s expenditure on hydrogen-related research will be \"not far from\" 2.1 billion euros ($2.07 billion) over the next four years, up from about 120 million over the last four.
\"You need an enormous quantity of money to start,\" he said. \"The threshold is very, very high.\"
The Commission\'s money would attract more investment as the hydrogen project picked up steam, he said.
Many of the potential investors are members of a \"High Level Group on Hydrogen\", set up to help shape Commission policy. Its 18 members are mainly drawn from large European firms, including DaimlerChrysler, Renault, Norsk Hydro and Air Liquide.
Several members, such as Shell, Nuvera, Siemens Westinghouse and Ballard, are also among the sponsors of a report presented at the U.S. Congress last month, calling on the government to invest $5.5 billion into hydrogen over 10 years.
The EU group will present its report on the way forward next year, possibly followed by a conference in June.
\"The most difficult job will be to prepare regulations, incentives, how to invent the system, because at this moment we don\'t have an example to follow,\" Prodi said.
The first task would be to agree on a distribution network, which he said could hypothetically cost five times as much as Europe\'s GSM mobile phone system.
Before going ahead with any one system, however, he said he would encourage small-scale production and experiment with small scale distribution to avoid backing the wrong technology.
The Commission\'s goal is for renewable energy sources to meet 12 percent of the EU\'s needs by 2010, as well as contributing 22 percent of the bloc\'s electricity. Hydrogen, a potential source of energy, is key to hitting the target.
Hydrogen\'s greenness caught Prodi\'s attention two years ago. But now he cites Europe\'s fossil fuel dependency and hydrogen\'s potential place in a decentralised distribution network as equally important.
\"It\'s a very, very, top, top, top priority,\" he said.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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