Fuel cells are moving up the European research agenda, owing to the major role they are expected to play in future sustainable energy projects. The European Commission recently signalled its growing support for fuel cell research at a conference in Brussels, pointing to their ability to help achieve key EU objectives aimed at energy savings and reducing environmental pollution from carbon dioxide emission. Speaking on the prospects for fuel cells in a European research area, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: 'Fuel cells are a key domain today. They offer a great diversity of applications and have the flexibility necessary to move from a system based primarily on fossil energy towards a mixed economy, integrating fossil and non-fossil fuels. 'The European Commission's support for this technology is growing, with the objective of swiftly moving to the commercialisation of European technologies that meet the needs of industry and private individuals by mastering two key elements of the problem: the cost and life-span of the cells, and the choice of fuel.' Since the start of the Fourth Framework programme, fuel cell research has benefited from on average 46 million euro a year, of which 30 per cent comes from Community funding. Although not inconsiderable, Busquin pointed out that these amounts aren't even half of the funding provided by the United States or Japan in this area. The problem lies at the heart of the Union, said the Research Commissioner, advocating fuel cell research as an ideal candidate for international cooperation as underlined in his European Research Area initiative. 'It is not the quality of our teams of researchers and engineers which is in question', he said. 'It is above all the segmentation of our efforts and resources, the lack of communication between national research systems, and disparities between administrative systems and rules, which are the source of the problem. To give European research the impetus it needs, it is essential to de-compartmentalise to build a larger coherence in European science and technology.' Busquin suggested the establishment of a network of national and Community research projects, using benchmarking so that Member States can measure their progress. He predicted fuel cells will have a significant impact that will span borders, and said the choice of fuels and their impact on systems for the production and distribution of energy justifies intensive collaboration at European level. This could be achieved in two ways - either by opening up national research programmes to researchers from other Member States, or by establishing joint projects coordinated at Community or national level. Cooperation with third countries could also be encouraged he said, pointing to the possibilities of collaboration with the USA on fuel cell research. The possibility exists due to a framework agreement on EU-US RTD cooperation signed in 1997, and an implementation agreement for cooperation in the field of energy RTD which is currently being prepared.