EU states have agreed to build hydrogen fuelling stations in all major cities and at least every 200km along the core Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) after the Council of ministers and the European Parliament reached political agreement on the new Regulation for the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure (AFIR) late last night.

Hydrogen: hype, hope and the hard truths around its role in the energy transition
Will hydrogen be the skeleton key to unlock a carbon-neutral world? Subscribe to the weekly Hydrogen Insight newsletter and get the evidence-based market insight you need for this rapidly evolving global market

The regulation stipulates that the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure that can serve both cars and heavy-duty vehicles such as buses and trucks must be deployed from 2030 in all “urban nodes” — an EU term for 424 major cities in the bloc with ports, airports and rail terminals — and every 200km along the TEN-T core network, which links these urban nodes.

The deal also includes new rules for battery electric vehicles (BEV), including recharging stations for heavy-duty vehicles (with a minimum output of 350kW) along every 60km of the TEN-T core network and every 100km of the larger TEN-T comprehensive network from 2025 onwards (with complete network coverage by 2030).

Publicly accessible BEV recharging points must also be made available for every single battery electric car and van registered in the EU, with fast-charging stations of at least 150kW installed every 60km along the TEN-T network from 2025 onwards.

“The agreement will send a clear signal to citizens and other stakeholders that user-friendly recharging infrastructure and refuelling stations for alternative fuels, such as hydrogen, will be installed throughout the EU,” said Andreas Carlson, the Swedish minister for infrastructure.

“This means that more public recharging capacity will be available on the streets in urban areas as well along the motorways. Citizens will no longer have a reason to feel anxious about finding charging and refuelling stations to their electric or fuel-cell car.”

The European Commission had a similar response. “By making a minimum of recharging and refuelling infrastructure available across the EU the regulation will end consumer concerns about the difficulty to recharge or refuel a vehicle,” it said, describing the move as a “landmark agreement that will enable the transition to zero-emission transport and contribute to our target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030”.

Frans Timmermans, the commission's executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, added: “The transition to zero-emission mobility has to be supported by the right infrastructure, ready for you when you need it, where you need it.

“Electric or otherwise, we want every driver in Europe to be certain that they can travel in confidence throughout the continent. With this agreement we ensure that there are sufficient and user-friendly options available throughout Europe, for both cars, and heavy-duty vehicles.”

Member states must now prepare a hydrogen refuelling station deployment plan by 2027.

The AFIR is part of the Fit for 55 package presented by the European Commission on 14 July 2021, which aims to reduce the EU's net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels and to achieve climate neutrality in 2050.

The Council of government ministers from member states (officially known as the Council of the European Union) and the European Parliament made some minor amendments to the Commission proposal, including a focus on gaseous hydrogen refuelling infrastructure “with a particular attention to urban nodes and multimodal hubs”, and a gradual deployment of electric heavy-duty vehicle infrastructure from 2025.

The final agreed text — which has yet to be published — “specifies the obligations of each stakeholder involved, provides for progress tracking, ensures users are properly informed and supplies the industry with common standards and technical specifications”, the Council said.

And it added: “With a view to significant technological and market developments that will affect heavy-duty vehicles, the text of the provisional agreement includes a clause on a specific review in the short term, whereas the whole regulation will be also reviewed in the medium term.”

Trade body Hydrogen Europe has broadly welcomed the agreement, calling it “a satisfactory starting point”.

“We are happy to see a timely conclusion on this piece of legislation, 21 months after the proposal was tabled, despite it falling short of what we believe are the minimal industry needs,” said Darko Levicar, the association's director of mobility.

“We believe that by the foreseen AFIR revision in 2026 there will be enough hydrogen cars, vans, buses and trucks on the roads to justify an increase in targets.

The Council and Parliament now have to formally adopt the regulation, which will then enter into force after a transitional period of six months.

Transport was responsible for about a quarter of the EU’s total CO2 emissions in 2019, of which 71.7% came from road transportation, according to the European Environment Agency.