BRUSSELS -- A hydrogen policy panel will cut European Commission President Romano Prodi's commitment to hydrogen research down to size on Monday, showing it up to be around one-sixth what he promised and less than U.S. funding.
Prodi personally and repeatedly pushed the EU's commitment to hydrogen over the last year, promising investment of around two billion euros ($2.35 billion) over the next four years to keep EU researchers competitive with U.S. rivals.
"The proposed U.S. support is around five to six times the level of public support anticipated for hydrogen and fuel cells (in the European Commission's research budget)," said an advance copy of the advisory group's report seen by Reuters on Thursday.
The 18-member advisory body set up by the Commission nine months ago will make its recommendations on hydrogen policy at a Brussels conference next week, to be opened by Prodi.
European Science Commissioner Philippe Busquin confirmed that Prodi's figures had been too high.
"Mr Prodi was not being serious," he told reporters on Thursday.
He said the Commission's funding was likely to stretch to 300 million euros over four years, although investment by companies and national governments would increase the total.
But the study by the advisory group said even if national budgets were taken into account, the level of public commitment would still be far below that of the United States, which proposes to spend $1.7 billion over the next five years.
Hydrogen packs more energy per gram than any other substance and produces only water and energy when burnt, making it the green fuel of the future for its supporters.
It can be derived in a variety of ways, including the possible use of fossil fuels, nuclear power or renewables.
The report, whose authors are drawn mainly from firms engaged in hydrogen research such as DaimlerChrysler, Renault, Norsk Hydro and Air Liquide, is also likely to draw environmentalists' fire for failing to integrate renewable energy into the hydrogen plan.
"That's our biggest concern," said Stephan Singer from WWF.
Singer said the Commission should concentrate on developing renewable energy before hydrogen, because fossil fuels used to create hydrogen would continue to cause pollution.
The report by the EU advisory group envisages fossil fuels and nuclear power continuing to be a source of energy in a hydrogen-based economy.
But Jeremy Rifkin, an adviser to Prodi and a speaker at the conference, will compare EU hydrogen policy to Washington's "old-fashioned fossil fuel and nuclear energy regime", according to an early text of his speech.
Busquin said all sources of energy -- including fossil fuels and nuclear -- would play a part in the hydrogen plan, at least in the short term.
"You can't put all your eggs in one basket," he said.