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Highlights on climate and energy R&I, policy roundup and funding opportunities

 10 January 2022
In this issue:
 
  • EU Commission to label nuclear and gas as green in Taxonomy amendment
  • European Commission looking for top experts to advise EU Missions
  • Hydrogen expected to fuel 17% of new trucks in 2030, European Commission forecasts
  • 2022 will be the test year for Horizon Europe
  • Report from the EU Commission shows the first reduction in industry R&D investment in a decade
  • EU Commission publishes new state aid guidelines to support Green Deal objectives
  • R&D policy will need ambitious political commitments in 2022 to keep the momentum
  • France’s EU presidency begins work, with key discussion on energy and environment ahead
  • Chinese carbon trading system starts to be operational
  • Turmoil in uranium-rich Kazakhstan threatens nuclear energy prices
  • Researchers push to better measure emissions
  • Ukraine aiming to join the revamped European Research Area (ERA)
News
EU Institutions
EU Commission to label nuclear and gas as green in Taxonomy amendment
 
The European Commission has begun consultations with Member States experts on an amendment of the EU Taxonomy, which would cover certain gas and nuclear activities. The scientific-based investment tool aims to make eco-friendly activities more attractive to private investment by giving them a “green label”. A leaked draft of the Commission’s proposal would qualify nuclear power plant investments as “green” if the project has a safe site to dispose of radioactive waste and a permit issued by 2045. Investments in natural gas power plants would also be considered green if producing below 270g of CO2 per kWh, replacing fossil fuel activities and receiving a construction permit by 31 December 2030.
 
The Commission’s decision has attracted criticism from civil societies, NGOs, and the Member States. Environmental groups have denounced the proposal as “greenwashing” a taxonomy meaning to become the gold-standard for international sustainable investment. Moreover, the decision comes as a blow to the Member States phasing out nuclear plants, such as Germany and Belgium. The German minister for Economy and Climate Protection, Robert Habeck, said Berlin could not back the proposed scheme. On the other hand, a group of Member States, including France, Poland and the Czech Republic, has been pushing the inclusion of nuclear as a vital low-carbon technology to provide energy security to the green transition. The Czech Industry Minister, Jozef Sikela, tweeted that the country would seek allies to loosen the taxonomy restrictions on gas and nuclear, calling the plan too strict.

After consultation of the Member States and a panel of experts, the amendment to the Taxonomy should be adopted by the European Commission over the course of January 2022. Once published, the proposal can be vetoed by a majority of Member States or by the European Parliament, but it cannot be amended.
 
Read more here and here
 
 
European Commission looking for top experts to advise EU Missions
 
The European Commission launched a call for experts to join the five Horizon Europe Mission Boards, with the role of advising on the implementation of the EU Missions. The five Mission Boards will gather up to 15 independent top experts for each Mission with excellent expertise in serving public authorities and citizens and combining public and/or private funding. The main tasks of the new Mission Boards will be to promote the EU Missions by raising awareness of the citizens and advice on the actions of the Mission’s implementation plan. The Mission Boards resulting from this call for application will build on the work of the first phase Mission Boards (in charge until December 2021).
 
More information here
 
 
Hydrogen expected to fuel 17% of new trucks in 2030, European Commission forecasts
 
Though electric vehicles dominate the private vehicles market, hydrogen is still expected to play a key role in decarbonizing heavy-duty road transport – a long term ambition of the EU. The EU’s transport commissioner, Adina Valean, said “hydrogen refueling stations must be accessible at least every 150 km along our car Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) network by 2030” in order to achieve the EU’s transport decarbonization goals. This would create a dense enough network to support the 60,000 hydrogen lorries expected to be seen on the road by 2030. A study commissioned by the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking concluded that fuel-cell hydrogen trucks can become cost-competitive by 2027, if hydrogen drops to 6€/kg – a target not possible without a supportive legislative framework. A successful “Fit for 55” would see green hydrogen costing as little as 1.8€/kg, according to the European Commission’s President von der Leyen. The relaunched FCH JU, the Clean Hydrogen Partnership, supported by a budget of €2 billion, aims to produce clean hydrogen at ~€1.5-3/kg” for use in industry and transport.
 
Read more here
 
 
2022 will be the test year for Horizon Europe
 
This year will be crucial for the newest European research and innovation (R&I) funding programme, Horizon Europe, laying solid grounds for its five Missions. After their launch in 2021, the Missions will become fully operational in 2022 and set the course for the coming decade to fight cancer, save the world’s oceans and soils, and lead cities to climate neutrality and adaptation. Moreover, there are signs that the French presidency of the Council of the EU is eager to create a common approach to the missions to make them more efficient. Nonetheless, the big challenge for 2022 will be to get member states and other stakeholders on board because their involvement is critical for the actual success of the missions. In fact, Horizon Europe funds the initial research, but most of the money will come from member states, EU structural funds and the Commission’s investment programme InvestEU.
 
Read more here
 
 
Report from the EU Commission shows the first reduction in industry R&D investment in a decade
 
According to the recently published 2021 EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard, 2021 saw a drop in research and development (R&D) investments from the industry sector within the European Union. Although the contraction may be ascribed to the pandemic, in the rest of the world, and notably in the US and China, investment continued to grow for the 11th consecutive year. Although in 2011, China invested less than the EU in all the four main R&D sectors, in 2020, Chinese companies invested nearly twice as much as their EU counterparts. Even if the EU has increased its lead in the health and automotive sectors during the last year, the report suggests that it should increase investment in the automotive sector (especially for R&D in electric vehicles) as well as in biotechnologies and the development of new drugs.
 
Read more here
 
 
EU Commission publishes new state aid guidelines to support Green Deal objectives
 
The Commission agreed in December 2020 to update the Guidelines on State aid for climate, environmental protection and energy (‘CEEAG'). These new rules will align more coherently state aid rules with the environmental objectives of the commission, expressed through the European Green Deal and the Fit for 55 legislative package. They will support projects for environmental protection, including climate protection and green energy generation, aiming at helping EU Member States fulfil their green development goals. The new provisions will broaden the categories of investments and technologies that Member States can support, cover aid for numerous areas relevant for the Green Deal, introduce safeguards to ensure that the aid is effectively directed where it is necessary, and increase flexibility and streamline the previous rules. The guidelines also include a new section on aid for the closure of coal, peat, and oil shale plants to facilitate decarbonisation in the power sector.
 
Read more here
 
 
R&D policy will need ambitious political commitments in 2022 to keep the momentum
 
This year will be crucial to implement the R&D policy developments many have been calling for in the past years. First in priority will be the follow up on the European Research Area, a process started by the Slovenian presidency but now in the hands of the new French presidency for completion. In particular, the ERA reform means a new system of evaluating research and academic careers in the EU. The presidency will also aim to tackle what it hinted as underspending in defense and space innovation. Crucial will be the response to COP26’s announcements, which should translate into more focused green policies. Many have criticised the Commission’s approach to the new Taxonomy, with Germany at the front. Horizon Europe has launched and will continue to run, but the UK and Switzerland are still not part of it. The discussion should approach an end in the course of the year, giving clarity to researchers.
 
Read more here
 
 
France’s EU presidency begins work, with key discussion on energy and environment ahead
 
On the 1st of January, the French presidency officially began, covering the next six months. The French President Emmanuel Macron has already presented the programme of the country, which will focus on pushing forward discussions on the renewable energy and energy efficiency directives, beginning discussions on the revision of the Directive on the energy performance of buildings, working on the proposed Gas package, the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism and the implementation of the Batteries Directive. Not all the work will be so easily implemented: discussions are expected around key files, as the extension of the EU Emission Trading System to the transport and building sectors or the introduction of a Climate Social Fund to support citizens at risk of energy poverty. The French president also mentioned the introduction of so-called “mirror clauses” which will ensure “coherence” between trade policy and climate and biodiversity preservation policy, as well as a European instrument to combat imported deforestation.
 
 
Read more here
International Energy News
Chinese carbon trading system starts to be operational
 
The Chinese national emissions trading system (ETS), launched on 16th July 2021, is moving its first steps. Although the ETS covers only the power generation sector, it encompasses a group of industries estimated to generate 4.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year – vis-à-vis the EU ETS that in 2020 stood at 1.6 billion tonnes. The Chinese system is designed to create incentives for market stakeholders to contribute to decarbonization and clean energy transition. However, it lacks an incentive for fuel switching from coal to renewables and encourages the use of more efficient coal-fired plants over less efficient ones. There are other differences between the Chinese ETS system and the EU one, the most significant of which is the lack of an absolute cap, as allowances are allocated based on emitters’ verified emissions. Overall, the system is still in its infancy, with a daily trading value of 15 million tonnes of CO2 – in the EU market, the daily average is 40 million tonnes. Although the Chinese ETS has brought hope that it may rip fruit in the future and be mimicked by other economies, there is still much skepticism, especially about the process of monitoring, reporting and verifying emissions. This is mainly carried out by the local public administration, which may incur conflict of interests and lack the necessary expertise.
 
Read more here
 
 
Turmoil in uranium-rich Kazakhstan threatens nuclear energy prices
 
Uranium prices jumped as Kazakhstan struggles to cope with deadly protests against the government. Kazakhstan, a part of the former Soviet Union, produces more than 40% of the world’s uranium. Protests have already led to communications networks disruption, and uranium surged almost 8% to $45.25 a pound, according to UxC data. Given Kazakhstan’s role as the world’s No.1 uranium supplier, “it’d be like if the Saudis had issues in oil,” said Jonathan Hinze, president of UxC LLC, a leading nuclear fuel market research and analysis firm. The shares of Kazatomprom, the top uranium miner in Kazakhstan, are down 10% over the last two days in London. Uncertainties in the uranium supplies would be highly undesirable for the “nuclear renaissance” trend related to fossil fuels decommissioning and shifting to a low-carbon energy.
 
 Read more here
 

Researchers push to better measure emissions
 
Currently, countries can self-report emissions, based on proxy measures of other activities. This results into long-standing concerns that current ways of calculating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are inaccurate and open to manipulation. Scientists have raised repeated warnings that despite the seriousness of climate change, the world is still often in the dark over the true extent of its emissions, and where they come from. The US, EU, France, Japan and China call for a “revolution in GHG measurement”. These countries launched or are planning to launch new satellite projects to provide sensitive, frequent, high-resolution data covering the entire planet.

The European Commission has also drawn up a new regulation that could deploy satellites, drones, aircraft and boats to measure one of the most potent greenhouse gases, methane. Better measurement of GHG also means that countries are more able to enter global GHG trading markets. At COP26, John Bell, director for a healthy planet at the European Commission’s research directorate, said more than €250 million was needed by the end of 2022 to develop better climate models and monitor phenomena like melting glaciers.
 
Read more here

 
Ukraine aiming to join the revamped European Research Area (ERA)
 
Ukraine is working on reforms to speed up its integration in the newly revamped European Research Area (ERA) hoping to join the COST science and technology cooperation programme in 2022. The Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science plans to expand participation in international scientific programs of the EU. Ukraine has recently signed a deal with the European Commission to join as fully associated member in Horizon Europe, the EU’s €95.5 billion research and innovation programme. Now, the government wants to strengthen its position in the renewed ERA, a plan by the EU to establish a single market for research. The Ukrainian government is also discussing with the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) next steps in introducing open science in its R&D system and a legal framework that would allow research infrastructures in the country to join European consortia.
 
Read more here
 
EU Institutional Agenda
Council of the EU
Working Party on the Environment,
10-11 January
Agenda not available yet
Working Party on International Environment Issues,
11 January
Agenda not available yet.
Working Party on Energy,
11 January
Agenda not available yet.
Working Party on Atomic Questions (WPAQ),
12 January
Agenda not available yet.
Working Party on International Environment Issues,
13 January
Agenda not available yet.
Working Party on the Environment,
13-14 January
Agenda not available yet.
Working Party on Energy,
13 January
Agenda not available yet.
Working Party on Research,
13 January
Agenda not available yet.
Working Party on the Environment, 
17 January
Agenda not available yet.
European Parliament
ENVI Committee, 
13 January
Agenda available here
EERA Events 
#Energy Transition

Pan-European Clean Energy Transition: ways to strengthen transnational cooperation
Location: Online
Information & registration: click here

Collaboration and innovation in energy research can only lead to a successful clean energy transition with the strong acceptance and commitment of the whole of Europe. This event will address this issue by giving representatives of the EU13, Greece and Portugal the opportunity to gain more knowledge about the initiatives favouring their countries' institutions and to find a way forward to strengthening cooperation in the EU. 

External Events
#Molecular Simulation

(i)RASPA online school/workshop: Software for visualization and simulation of porous materials and fluids 

Location: Online
Information & registration: click here

The workshop focuses on a practical understanding of visualization and molecular simulation of nanoporous materials and fluids, using iRASPA and RASPA. 

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