The European Commission has unveiled two proposals which it hopes will mark a step forward in the development and marketing of clean and safe hydrogen vehicles.
The first proposal is to simplify the rules for approving hydrogen vehicles and make sure there are uniform standards throughout the EU.
This would replace the complex and costly national approval procedures and ensure that hydrogen vehicles are at least as safe as conventional vehicles.
"Europe is facing major challenges to secure its energy supply, while combating climate change, preserving the environment, and maintaining a competitive economy. Technologies such as fuel cells and hydrogen can help us tick all the boxes," said science commissioner Janez Potocnik on Wednesday (10 October.)
The Commission hopes that this single system would boost the competitiveness of European vehicle producers and make it easier to sell their hydrogen-fuelled vehicles across EU members.
"By having these EU-wide uniform conditions, it means that these vehicles would probably come onto our roads sooner and in larger numbers than would have been otherwise the case. That is clearly a good thing, " industry commission Guenter Verheugen said.
But he admitted that he did not expect to see many hydrogen cars on European roads before 2010.
The second proposal is to create a public-private partnership for research on hydrogen and fuel cells and to provide this joint initiative with €470 million in research funds, an amount that will be matched by the private sector.
The Commission hopes that this partnership would "accelerate the development of hydrogen technologies to the point of commercial take-off between 2010 and 2020."
Flogging a dead horse
Before the two proposals can come into force, they need the approval of both the European Parliament and member states.
But Green MEPs criticised the proposals for being the wrong answer to the problem of dangerous vehicle emissions.
"It is regrettable that the European Commission is still wasting time flogging the dead horse of hydrogen cars when even the car industry itself has abandoned the dream that the technology will be viable in the near future," Luxembourg MEP Claude Turmes said.
"There are clear solutions (...) that will deliver real results in the short-term, such as through the enforcement of ambitious efficiency standards or the promotion of hybrid vehicles," he added.
"The Commission should have the courage to promote these solutions (...) and not hide behind smokescreens like hydrogen cars."
The commission is also set to unveil a major piece of legislation in December setting out how car manufacturers are to lower greenhouse gas emissions in new cars.