FuelCellChina Interview: The National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Testing Centre (CNH2)


2023-12-28 13:43

The National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Testing Centre (CNH2) Backgrounds


As a national research centre at the service of the entire scientific, technology and industrial community, the National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Testing Centre (CNH2) is aimed at driving forward the scientific and technological research into hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.


With its main headquarters located in Puertollano (Ciudad Real), it was created in 2007 as a Public Consortium between the Ministry of Education and Science, currently the Ministry of Science, Innovation and University Education, and Castilla-La Mancha Regional Government, with each entity holding a 50% interest.


In addition to this, the CNH2 is a high prestige industry benchmark centre, not only on the national but also on the international level, that has been part of several collaborations with universities, technology centres and different kinds of companies covering the entire value chain and providing further experience, quality and professionalism in their execution.


Recently, the Chinese government announced a significant visa policy adjustment, further enhancing exchanges and cooperation with European countries. Starting from December 1, 2023, China will unilaterally grant visa-free access to holders of ordinary passports from six countries: France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia. This decision not only marks a vital measure for China's openness and high-quality development but also represents a pivotal step in facilitating the exchange of people between China and foreign nations. In this context, friends from Spain will enjoy considerable convenience when visiting China.


However, during the recent European Hydrogen Week event, there were comments suggesting that the European Union intends to formulate policies to prevent more Chinese electrolyzer companies, known for their low-priced products, from entering the European market. These statements have raised concerns within China's hydrogen industry, particularly among electrolyzer-related enterprises. How do China’s industry players envision the European market in the future? To explore this, FuelCellChina interviewed Emilio Nieto, the Director of Spain's National Hydrogen Center.


FuelCellChina-Becky: Hi, Mr. Emilio Nieto. It’s our pleasure to have you today.


Mr. Emilio Nieto


Q-1: Would you please introduce yourself and The National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Testing Centre (CNH2) to us? 


I am PhD in Chemistry from Autónoma University of Madrid (1995), Master in H&S (3 specialities) and MBA by IE. I am EOI professor for the Master on Management of Eco-innovative industries and the Hydrogen Executive Programme, Master professor of Expert in Promotion and Management of R&D&I international projects of Polytechnic University of Madrid. I have more than 30 years of experience in R&D, quality and business development management in multinational enterprises in different industrial sectors. I am co-author of 2 patents and more than 20 peer-review articles. Also, I am expert evaluator of the European Commission for Horizon 2020, ERAMIN, KAVA EIT RM projects; advisory board of several EU projects, as well as Monitor for FP7 and Horizon 2020 projects related to raw materials and industrial technological development processes. I am president of CLM Regional Hydrogen Cluster and member of the board of the Spanish Hydrogen Association, as well as board member of the Galician Hydrogen Association. I am the ExCo delegate in Advance Fuel Cell Technical Collaboration Platform AFC TCP for Spain, member of the Hydrogen Europe Research and EERA, as well as member of Gasnam and Sedigas (Spanish experts’ group on gases). Since 2017, I am the general manager of CNH2.


The Spanish National Hydrogen Centre (CNH2) http://www.cnh2.es is a National Research Centre devoted into research and development of hydrogen technologies covering the whole value chain: hydrogen production, hydrogen storage and purification, and hydrogen conversion into energy using fuel cells. The CNH2 is also devoted to testing processes, characterization, standardization, certification or validation of technological developments achieved by the productive sector to improve the competitiveness of enterprises and to promote the implementation of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. For carrying out the daily activities, the CNH2 has 14 laboratories and 4 auxiliary facilities focused in all areas related to H2 and fuel cells, allowing to develop and scale up processes, prototypes and equipment. Since 2008, the CNH2 has been involved in more than 40 R&D projects related to hydrogen and fuel cells funded by international, national and regional programs taking part as partner or project coordinator. On the other hand, the CNH2 carries out other type of projects intended to develop new technologies or processes, and/or to transfer technology to the industry.


Q2: Spain government officially released the Hydrogen Roadmap in October 2020. Spain views green hydrogen as crucial for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and for a 100% renewable energy power system. According to the roadmap, by 2030, Spain aims to have 25% of industrial hydrogen consumption sourced from renewable energy production. In the transportation sector, the goal is to have at least 150 buses and 5,000 heavy and light-duty trucks powered by hydrogen. Could you provide an update on the progress made since the publication of Spain's National Hydrogen Roadmap in 2020?


At the beginning, the main focus was to define and formalize the different funding schemes to be developed to move forward with the different projects that will allow to reach the goals defined. Since 2020, we have created different funding opportunities from the European resilience funds received to further develop the energy transition to decarbonize the economy. It has been released up to 1M€ to support the hydrogen value chain and capabilities development in Spain, as well as some other funds to push the new renewable farms both wind and photovoltaic ones to assess renewable source to produce renewable hydrogen.


Therefore, 123 hydrogen projects have been approved and started this year to comply with the goals defined to reach 11 GW of electrolysis and many tonnes of renewable hydrogen to be produced and uses in different industrial applications.


The renewable penetration is ensured to be match in 2023, and hopefully in 2050, there were many days during 2023 where renewables fulfill all the demand in Spain.


Regarding Hydrogen Refueling Stations (HRS), we are delayed and it seems we will not be able to reach this number. We are working on their better location to comply with the new AFIR rules that will force to increase that number to comply with the 200km space among them as a minimum requirement along the EU. Also, the number of vehicles. We are growing slowly but constantly, reaching today 32 heavy and 91 light vehicles on the road. Furthermore, we have two hydrogen trains developed as it was mentioned in the roadmap.


Q3: Spain enjoys abundant sunshine, especially in the central regions, with over 300 clear days throughout the year. There's no distinct rainy season, making it particularly suitable for solar energy development. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez aims to establish Puertollano as a European hub for green hydrogen production. There have been reports of Germany and Spain's intentions to jointly construct natural gas/green hydrogen transport pipelines across the Pyrenees. Could you provide an update on the progress of some of Spain's large-scale green hydrogen/transport pipeline projects? Could you share any relevant information on this matter?


We have a great geography to be one of the sunniest and windiest countries to have renewable sources to be used to produce renewable hydrogen, but not the only one. There is a project along four European countries, Portugal-Spain-France-Germany, to build a hydrogen pipeline to provide up to 2 million of tonnes to central Europe (H2med). The project is ongoing well and there was incorporated to the European Commission key projects to be funded and further developed as strategical approach. The most of the hydrogen projects started in Spain can feed this infrastructure to provide renewable hydrogen for both internal and export goals.


The project is aligned with the strategies of the four European countries, and it is one of the European solutions to be further developed to decarbonize the European economy.


Q4: What initiatives or joint projects has Spain's National Hydrogen Center undertaken or plans to undertake with Chinese counterparts in recent years, and what successes or challenges have been encountered in these collaborations?


The main initiative was the agreement signed among EV100 and CNH2 two years ago (December 2021) in order to set up the synergies among both institutions to work together in developing different parts of the hydrogen value chain. It has been done three meetings so far to define the collaborative activities to be worked on, but we are waiting for their feedback to continue with the concrete definitions of activities to be focused on. They must be research activities to be further scaled up to reach the market in order to justify our participation. They propose only commercial activities which are out of our scope. But there were identified several lines where collaboration is possible, but it is stopped now as explained before.


We hope to be able to continue working on it because it is a part of a more wide agreement between China and Spain to collaborate together.


Q5: With China's recent policy changes aiming to enhance exchanges with European nations, how do you foresee these adjustments benefiting collaborative ventures between China and Spain in the hydrogen sector?


Of course, yes. It is key to have the support of the countries to be able to define the different collaborations that are feasible. Even more, to agree it at European level, give more security and commitment to all the stakeholders.



Q-6: The European Union is reportedly considering policies to regulate the entry of Chinese electrolyzer companies into its market. How might these potential regulations impact collaborative efforts between China and Spain in advancing hydrogen technologies?


I think that having an agreement to collaborate among the EU and China will not jeopardize this effort. It is true that technically is one issue, and commercially another different one which is out of my knowledge. The regulation must be sound and open in order to protect the interest of the different countries, but this fact must no be against a fruitfull collaboration.


Thanks a lot for your time, Mr. Emilio Nieto. We sincerely welcome to visit China. Meanwhile we are looking forward to seeing you in person during Hannover Messe 2024 in Germany.


Source: FuelCellChina