Ljubljana, June 22, 2022 – On June 21, 2022, the National Institute of Chemistry, the leading partner of the H₂GreenTECH project, hosted the final conference H₂GreenTECH – Strengthening Slovenian-Austrian cross-border cooperation for the development of hydrogen technologies. The event was organized by Dr. Blaž Likozar, project leader, and Petra Props, project coordinator at the National Institute of Chemistry. The research and innovation project in the field of hydrogen technologies is co-financed within the Interreg Slovenia-Austria cross-border program, which increases the scope of research and innovation in the field of hydrogen technologies through cross-border cooperation between Slovenia and Austria. The main results of the project were presented – the established Hydrogen Center, which will connect companies, researchers and students, demonstration models and an educational concept for teaching hydrogen technologies, and an action plan for the promotion of hydrogen technologies in Slovenia and Austria. Experts from Slovenia and Austria also discussed the development opportunities for establishing a hydrogen valley in the interregional area.

Final conference of the H₂GreenTECH project – Round table on the topic of development opportunities for establishing a hydrogen valley. From left to right: Dr. Blaž Likozar (National Institute of Chemistry), Dr. Janez Blaž (Ministry of Infrastructure), Dr. Dragica Marinič (Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Štajerska), Dr. Viktor Hacker (TU Graz), Dr. Christian Heschl (Forschung Burgenland) and Dr. Tomaž Katrašnik (Faculty of Mechanical Engineering).

The H₂GreenTECH project started in March 2020 and will end in August 2022. The main goal of the project partners involved: the National Institute of Chemistry, the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport (MIZŠ), the Chamber of Commerce of Štajerska (ŠGZ), the Graz University of Technology (TU Graz), the research center Forschung Burgenland and Carinthia University of Applied Sciences (FH Kärnten) from Villach, was to strengthen the cross-border cooperation of various stakeholders in the field of hydrogen technologies and to combine regional advantages and technological know-how for the development of a hydrogen technology sector in the Styria-Carinthia-Carinthia region in Slovenia and Austria.

Dr. Dragica Marinič (ŠGZ) presented a sustainable cross-border research-industrial network Hydrogen Center with an implementation strategy until 2025 (https://b2b.h2greentech.eu/). The center aims to improve access to the research infrastructure of hydrogen technologies for companies, researchers and students and to connect stakeholders working in the field of hydrogen technologies. Membership of the network is free and open to a variety of potential stakeholders, such as SMEs and larger companies, research and development organizations with their laboratories, competence centers, educational institutions, start-ups, researchers, students and other individuals from the program area who with their professional, development and research work, knowledge, skills and experience, they significantly contribute to the development of breakthrough hydrogen technologies and their greater use in the cross-border area and beyond. The Hydrogen Center is coordinated by ŠGZ in Maribor and works in cooperation with supporting laboratories in Ljubljana (National Institute of Chemistry); Graz (TU Graz) and Villach (FH Kärnten).

Sigrid Wolf (TU Graz) presented models to demonstrate hydrogen technologies, which were developed by the research institutions involved in the project. The model made by TU Graz shows the use of a PEM fuel cell, the NICs model shows the electrolysis process, FH Kärnten focused on the control unit. Demonstration models are small mobile units that enable practical demonstrations of the use of green hydrogen technologies in the Interreg SI-AT program area. Companies and other interested parties can test their prototypes and fuel cell technologies in the Hydrogen Center’s support laboratories. With a practical demonstration of the possibility of using hydrogen as a fuel instead of fossil fuels, students will use it for educational purposes and in laboratory exercises. Andreas Warmuth (FH Kärnten) presented an educational concept for teaching hydrogen technologies. Interested  educational institutions can integrate it into their curricula free of charge.

During the project a Roadmap for the  development of hydrogen technologies in Slovenia and Austria was drawn up in cooperation with many stakeholders, which was presented by dr. Peter Kumer from MIZŠ and will be available on the project website. The document refers to the expected development of hydrogen technology until 2025, with guidelines and priorities in both countries, including forecasts for 2030, resulting from the national energy and climate plans of both countries. It should be noted that Slovenia does not yet have a national strategy for hydrogen, while Austria announced a new strategy at the beginning of June 2022. There is also a lack of defined opportunities for hydrogen energy technologies for Slovenia and Austria, as defined by the Association for Fuel Cells and Hydrogen in 2020 (Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking – FCH JU). The main focuses of the Roadmap for the  development of hydrogen technologies in Slovenia and Austria until 2023 are connecting stakeholders and investors to increase cooperation and investments, preparing concepts for infrastructure sharing, preparing support schemes for pilot projects that will contribute to the transfer of knowledge and technology and increase TRL , transferring knowledge to the general public and raising general public awareness about hydrogen technologies, building a knowledge base about hydrogen technologies and implementing new technologies, identifying sustainable and profitable business models through the development of new business models, determining new financing options for cross-border research activities, reviewing initiatives and opportunities for the establishment of a hydrogen valley in the Slovenia-Austria interregional area or beyond. By 2025 strong intellectual property protection for new technologies, licensing activities and support for open innovation must be ensured, thereby avoiding barriers to competition in the region. It is necessary to draw up a list of financing mechanisms for hydrogen-based projects, including financial support for start-up and spin-off, and financial instruments to raise TRL. Joint investment projects at the government level are necessary to support cross-border cooperation and analysis of hydrogen needs in the cross-border region, preparation of a feasibility study and development of a hydrogen mobility concept for the transport and industrial sectors with feasibility studies of pilot projects.

The round table on the topic of development opportunities for the establishment of the hydrogen valley was moderated by Dr Blaž Likozar. The speakers pointed out the key obstacles for increasing the use of hydrogen technologies. Dr Tomaž Katrašnik from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering highlighted the importance of establishing an integrated hydrogen ecosystem, in which it is necessary to define the cross-sectoral use of hydrogen. This requires a strategic and comprehensive approach that also defines hydrogen as an economic vector. This is a key to the wider use of a relatively expensive technology that enables many direct and indirect environmental and economic effects, and at the same time with appropriate investments in research-development-innovation activities opens up possibilities for the successful inclusion of Slovenian stakeholders in the newly emerging value chain.

Dr Viktor Hacker (TU Graz) emphasized that hydrogen must be part of the transition system to renewable energy sources. As said, firstly, it is necessary to educate people about hydrogen as an energy option, and in the long term, focus on ensuring price efficiency, as the current other options are more competitive, especially in the field of mobility. As Dr Christian Heschl (Forschung Burgenland) explained, Burgenland produces almost forty percent of energy from renewable sources, and the introduction of green electricity using hydrogen involves many complex challenges that require interdisciplinary integration and solutions.

Dr Dragica Marinič (ŠGZ) emphasized the importance of legislative support and national strategies for the implementation of hydrogen technologies for the implementation of low-carbon and hydrogen technologies in the economy. Above all, it is necessary to strengthen the economy by increasing investments in critical points of the value chain and in new skills and competences.

The main message of the participants of the round table is that, at the level of European countries, interregional integration in the field of hydrogen technologies is essential for the energy transition, because the proximity makes integration simpler, better and, as a result, greater effects are achieved. Indeed, interregional cooperation enables research centers, companies and educational institutions to improve their competences, especially through a faster and simpler exchange of knowledge and experience, which, as pointed out by dr. Janez Blaž from the Ministry of Infrastructure also more efficient design of the entire value chain.