EU parliament eases road for hydrogen cars

The EU parliament on Wednesday took a significant step towards the introduction of hydrogen-powered cars on Europe's roads, calling for common criteria for the environmentally friendly technology.

The fruit of a compromise hammered out by the EU member states, the idea of harmonised rules, passed almost unanimously, is expected to receive the final green light from the 27 nations soon.

The agreement "is a big step forward in the introduction of hydrogen vehicles," said European Commission vice-president Guenter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry.

"They have the potential to make Europe's air cleaner and reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. Setting common standards will ensure high safety for citizens and will boost the competitiveness of European manufacturers."

The purpose of the proposal is "to lay down harmonised technical provisions for the type-approval of hydrogen-powered vehicles for the first time," the parliament said.

Currently there are no uniform requirements for hydrogen vehicles in Europe, posing problems for hydrogen vehicle manufacturers when trying to place these vehicles on the market.

The result, according to the commission, is "a fragmented internal market of hydrogen powered vehicles, as well as complicated and costly approval procedures, which discourages the introduction of this environmentally friendly technology."

"With the adoption of EU-wide criteria, the European Union can establish itself now ahead of global research and ensure investment security for market access of this future technology," said British conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour.

His Labour compatriot Arlene McCarthy stressed the green and economic advantages of the new technology.

"At a time when petrol prices in Europe have doubled and with ever-growing concern about the effects of climate change it is clear we need new hopes for future fuels," she said.

The Euro MPs also stressed the need to encourage the setting up of hydrogen filling stations, essential to the success of the technology and currently very rare in Europe.

When used as fuel, either in combustion motors or in fuel-cell systems, hydrogen does not produce any carbon emissions, though care will have to be taken that the production of hydrogen itself does not lead to an increase in CO2 emissions.

While hydrogen has more energy power than oil, methanol and natural gas, its lightness makes it very difficult to stock and transport.

At present the fuel used is normally a hydrogen mixture with natural gas or biomethane. The MEPs said in the future pure hydrogen should be used, and that the current fuel was just a transitional technology.

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