For several months, speculation has been rife concerning the continuation of the National Innovation Program for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP), or a possible NIP 2.0. To ensure that the ideas on the configuration of the revised program aren’t rejected before it has even got off the ground, it is worth taking a brief look back: what, exactly, were the contents and goals of the NIP 1.0?
Earlier this year, at the Hanover trade show, Dr. Klaus Bonhoff, Director of the National Organization on Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW, see picture), explained that the NIP has always pursued one key goal: it is aligned to those applications in particular which have an environmentally relevant impact in terms of industrial policy and the energy sector. This means that it is primarily the techniques with a high potential which are supported, the development of which is in the socio-political interest and in which the economic risk cannot be carried by industry alone.
In addition to this area, which is of relevance to industrial policy, there is a second field in which small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) operate in particular. According to Bonhoff’s comments, these companies benefit indirectly from the NIP funding by securing subcontracts from the industrial companies. He also pointed out that SMEs and start-ups benefit from the research environment which has been initiated with the funding, as start-ups and medium-sized companies can also access the know-how offered by the institutes (with the development of materials, for example).
When asked about the support options available to small companies such as eZelleron, NOW Director Bonhoff, sharing the stage with the Director of eZelleron Dr. Sascha Kühn in Hanover, responded that the state wasn’t responsible for developing rechargeable fuel cell devices of this kind. He explained: “in terms of our political job, it is not up to our program to support the start-up scene. We pursue goals that are related to the energy industry. […] I ultimately view the role of NOW to be in the coordination of public and private actors in the core tasks of H2 infrastructure construction, co-generation and electric mobility.”
Regarding industrial policy, the key focus of the NIP 1.0 is on H2-mobility and the testing of new techniques in the scope of demonstration projects. Recently, there have been repeated calls for the continued use of funding plans of this kind following the end of the project. In this context, Bonhoff said that it was not, as a rule, the goal for demonstration projects to be ended immediately following their duration, but that sometimes it was simply unavoidable. A demonstration project primarily involves ascertaining the feasibility and gathering experience, not only at a technical level but also in terms of how something works at the economic level. On this basis, it isn’t unusual for components to be put to alternative uses after the end of the project, or in certain cases, simply to be scrapped, explained Bonhoff.
With the CEP filling stations, some of which have already seen the duration of their projects extended, Bonhoff believes that a special situation has developed: since March 2015, with the company H2Mobility, an organization has existed in this area which enables the subsequent use of the filling stations, although not in every case. The future of the Clean Energy Partnership is currently uncertain. It would appear, however, that after the currently planned end to the project in 2016, it could be continued with a renewed focus.
Dr. Klaus Bonhoff expressed his confidence that the NIP 1.0 would be followed with an NIP 2.0. He made the following comments on the range of possible funding measures which was presented by the NOW committee some months ago: “the suggestion made by the industrial leaders is currently being discussed in the departments of the German federal government. We have received some positive initial feedback and the federal government appears to be very sympathetic to our cause.”
Discussing the additional funding measures, the NOW Director said that he assumes that in terms of this range of topics, funding will be required for the area of research and development at a similar level as it is today, meaning an annual sum of EUR 60 to 70 million. Furthermore, there are also additional market activation measures, whatever these may involve, which could amount to several hundred million Euro for each part of the program over the years to come.
It was agreed in the coalition agreement that NOW GmbH would be continued, although the document does not mention NIP. Regarding this, Bonhoff said that the continuation of NOW only makes sense as long as NIP continues to exist – whatever its format.