EU becomes sustainable frontrunner with new Hydrogen Strategy

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans called hydrogen “the rock star for new energies”.

It was the release of the new EU Hydrogen Strategy on 8 July. We thought this would be the best occasion to talk to Mary-Rose de Valladares, longtime General Manager of IEA Hydrogen.

Mary-Rose started her voyage into sustainable energy at an early stage, developing off-grid wind and PV power systems and passive solar homes in New Mexico. Later, she worked for the Olympics in Atlanta as the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)’s developer. Her gold medalists were the newest renewable energy technologies, which she showcased in the Olympic Village and venues.

Mary-Rose has been focused on the hydrogen and fuel cell sector for 20 years. Now transitioning to new ventures with her company, M.R.S. Enterprises, she has managed the IEA Hydrogen Technology Collaboration Programme (TCP), which comprises 31 members globally, since late 2003. She publishes regularly on the topic, see for example this contribution to the Atlantic Council.

Hydrogen is an integrator, Mary-Rose says, and it ties actors (technologies, applications and sectors) together. It is a fuel, an energy carrier and a storage medium, offering flexibility and sustainability but requiring increased strategic cooperation and coordination of value chains. The energy world is inherently interconnected.

The EU as a frontrunner

At #SustainablePublicAffairs, we work with frontrunning businesses, going above and beyond for the environment – which Mary-Rose says is very important. But with this strategy, the EU is now acting like a frontrunner itself. She is glad that the Commission takes a “deliberate, coherent, and incremental approach, which has brought us to this day”.

Japan supports the EU’s move and many in the US are very pleased to see what is happening. She adds, “The EU has put itself in a position of legal, regulatory and moral leadership with the Hydrogen Strategy”.

Business cases in need of multi-stakeholder support

Of course, it takes a successful business case to prove it really works.

The front-running efforts by LKAB, Vattenfall and SSAB to make fossil-free steel with clean hydrogen (Hybrit) might well be one of the first examples. But the regulator plays a crucial role, too. They need to construct regulatory conditions that are conducive to front-runners and not too sweet for laggards. And then, there is the government that needs to invest the taxpayer’s money as seed capital into these innovations to soothe the first-mover disadvantage.

“...Add to that the rest of the value chain, municipalities, regions, infrastructure, etc. The multi-stakeholder approach in hydrogen is needed,” confirms also Carol Xiao from the Institute for Process Technology, who does just that with the Hydrohub Innovation Program.

There might still be much to do, but one thing is certain: This is only the beginning of a New Industrial Era (as Hydrogen Europe calls it) and Mary-Rose is confident that this time all the stars – or at least the EU’s 27 – are aligning for hydrogen.