Industries unite behind nuclear-made hydrogen, in addition to renewables
EXCLUSIVE: The steel and chemical industries have joined calls to incorporate nuclear-made fuels in the EU’s renewable energy targets, saying all types of clean hydrogen will be needed to reach the bloc’s decarbonisation objectives.
The call to action was signed by industry groups in the steel, fertilisers, and chemicals sectors, which are seen as the most likely buyers of clean hydrogen in the coming years.
“We are involved in a global race,” they write in a letter sent to the European Commission on Friday (10 March). “Deployment speed throughout legislation will be key to keep the Union’s leadership on hydrogen.”
The letter focuses on a broad category of clean fuels known as RFNBOs – renewable liquid and gaseous fuels of non-biological origin – which includes electro fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia and synthetic hydrocarbons like e-kerosene.
These fuels are considered key to decarbonising industries like chemicals, steelmaking and fertilisers, which are heavy energy consumers and cannot fully electrify their production processes.
RFNBOs are regulated by the EU’s renewable energy directive, which is currently being revised and includes specific targets for renewable transport fuels.
However, the letter’s signatories argue that RFNBOs should not be constrained to renewables only but should also consider fuels manufactured from low-carbon electricity sources – a reference to nuclear-powered hydrogen.
“Focusing these targets on RFNBOs without taking into account the potential of low-carbon hydrogen will slow down the decarbonisation process in heavy industry and transport,” the signatories warn, calling on EU legislators “to design a pragmatic framework for hydrogen”.
“This can be done by combining ambitious RFNBOs objectives and the needed recognition of low-carbon hydrogen to meet the triple challenge of decarbonisation, security of supply and industrial leadership,” they write.
The letter was initiated by France Hydrogène, a French industry association. It was signed by trade associations Fertilizer Europe, Eurofer and Cerame-Unie, and the European chemicals industry council (CEFIC). Steelmaker ArcelorMittal and French electricity utility EDF are also among the signatories, which includes a host of other groups.
It mirrors recent moves by the European Commission, which exempted EU countries with a low-carbon electricity mix from a rule requiring that renewable hydrogen must come from “additional” renewable energy sources only.
This means countries with high shares of nuclear power can use existing wind farms and solar plants to power their electrolysers – without building additional ones.
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Similarly, the letter’s signatories say nuclear-derived fuels should be exempted from targets calculated under the renewable energy directive. In practice, this means excluding low-carbon hydrogen consumed in industry and transport from the denominator used to calculate the binding volume objective of RFNBOs, they write.
“This proposal is not about introducing low-carbon energy within the renewable energy directive nor limiting the potential of renewable hydrogen, but only a legitimate request for adjusting the denominator basis,” the missive explains.
France Hydrogène says the aim is to ensure that electrolysers installed in Europe can work at maximum capacity by drawing on both renewable and nuclear electricity sources.
“Large industrial decarbonisation projects need a high capacity factor for electrolysers, above 7,000 hours per year,” explains Simon Pujau, public affairs officer at France Hydrogène. With low-carbon hydrogen available in addition to renewables, industrialists will be in a better position to make final investment decisions for clean hydrogen production, he told EURACTIV.
“Contractually, this would be done via Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) combining a mix of renewable and nuclear electricity,” Pujeau explained, adding that low-carbon hydrogen was “an indispensable complement” for industries located in countries like France and Sweden, which have a high share of nuclear in their electricity mix.
France has pushed for the European Union to recognise nuclear power as a low-carbon energy source alongside renewables. Last week, Paris launched a “nuclear alliance” with 10 other EU member states, aiming to cooperate more closely along the entire nuclear supply chain and promote “common industrial projects” in new generation capacity.
Germany, a country opposed to nuclear, has initially resisted the push but seemed to back down on Thursday, saying it won’t oppose plans to recognise the contribution of nuclear power to the EU’s decarbonisation goals.
“We will not erect barriers or create rules that prohibit or discriminate against hydrogen made from nuclear power,” said Jörg Kukies, financial market and European policy advisor to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who spoke at a public event in Paris.
> Read the full letter below or download it here.