BRUSSELS – The European Union and other participants plan to invest €1.4 billion ($1.8 billion) in the second phase of a public-private partnership, including the auto industry, to expand the use of clean, efficient technologies for transportation and energy, the European Commission says.

EU institutions and Europe’s transport and energy sectors (together) will contribute €700 million each ($915 million).

The first phase of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative (FCH) was launched in 2008 as part of the EU’s research-and-development funding program. Under the latest announcement, the program now will be extended until 2024.

FCH-1 has been operating with €1 billion ($1.3 billion) in seed money for the first phase, which runs until the end of this year and funds the development of fuel-cell and hydrogen technology for transport and static-energy installations.

“Bringing new technologies from research and development to consumers requires substantial efforts,” Henri Winand, CEO of U.K.-based Intelligent Energy, tells journalists at a recent briefing here.

“Fuel cell and hydrogen-(powered vehicles) can help the EU reduce its greenhouse gas and particulate emissions in cities,” he says, noting that while some technology already is available, it needs scaling up.

One of the primary projects financed by FCH-1 integrated 26 hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses into daily public transport operations and bus routes in five locations across Europe: Aargau, Switzerland; Bolzano, Italy; London, Milan and Oslo.

The project “has already demonstrated a significant reduction in fuel consumption of over 50% with respect to previous ‘clean bus’ generations, and a very high level of availability of hydrogen refueling stations (more than 98%) in the test regions,” an EC communique says.

Another project fitted a number of taxis in London with hydrogen-fuel-cell systems hybridized with lithium-polymer batteries, which allows the vehicles to operate for a full day without the need for refueling. The taxis are capable of achieving a speed of more than 80 mph (129 km/h), can refuel in five minutes and only emit water vapors.

If all 21,000 cabs in London changed to this type of powertrain, air-pollution levels in the city would go down significantly, says Winand, whose company led the project.

One of the main objectives of FCH-2 will be to demonstrate the use of fuel-cell and hydrogen technology in a wider range of road vehicles, non-road vehicles and machinery, as well as focusing on refueling infrastructure, Pierre-Etienne Franc, vice president-advanced business and technologies at France-based electronics and chemicals giant Air Liquide, tells WardsAuto.

Franc also serves as chairman of the New Energy World Industry Grouping, which represents a major part of the European hydrogen and fuel-cell industry. The association has more than 60 members, including Daimler, Volkswagen, Volvo, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.

“(Hydrogen-fuel-cell) technology has improved a lot,” he says. “In the past, it took several weeks to put in place a hydrogen recharging station,” while it now takes a couple of days. “The technology is ready in terms of its reliability to fuel cars. We now need to go to deployment.”

Franc welcomed the EC’s proposal earlier this year for mandatory national targets for refueling systems, including hydrogen pumps.

The use of fuel cells and hydrogen in transport is closer to market maturity than in the energy sector, he says. Therefore, FCH-2 will focus on demonstrations in the transport sector and in large fuel-cell and hydrogen pilot projects in energy.

“Fuel-cell vehicles combine the advantage of electric vehicles and the classic combustion engine,” Franc says: low to no emissions, an average of three minutes for refueling and a driving range of up to 372 miles (600 km).

Despite this progress, Rudolf Strohmeier, the EC’s deputy director general-research programs, insists fuel-cell demonstration vehicles still need the support of public finance. “The fuel-cell and hydrogen sector is a very specific animal, as it is premature, without a clear return of investment.

“From a public perspective (through FCH-2), we can tackle at the same time environment, transport and energy objectives,” he says, explaining why the EC is investing public money into the initiative.

“It’s important we continue to invest in these new areas, away from the traditional types of energy,” agrees EU Research Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn.

“In this tough global environment, it’s better to work together with a competitor than not to work at all,” she adds, noting how rival companies have joined with the EC to be part of the FCH-2 initiative.