Universitat Rovira i Virgili

Individual research project: “Regulating hydrogen within the legal framework of circular economy”



According to the European Green Deal, hydrogen is a priority area for a clean and circular economy. Indeed, in the context of the latter, which is understood as economy-wide human-earth balance and harmonized carbon cycle, hydrogen can play an important role in decarbonisation from three perspectives: reducing emissions through substitution of carbon-rich fuels such as oil, gas, coal and biomass; recycling emissions by adding hydrogen to CO2 to make fuels and other products; removing emissions by separating and storing carbon from fossil or biomass sources. In short, hydrogen is seen as an essential element for the energy transition and the decarbonisation of industry, including those productive sectors that are difficult to decarbonise. On the other hand, plastics and other problematic wastes are emerging as resources to generate the hydrogen needed to reduce the carbon footprint of social metabolism. The transformation of waste into resources through gasification and catalytic depolymerisation processes must be carried out in the matrix of circular economy legal principles to achieve the goals of a sustainable energy transition. The legal framework defined at the European and national levels will be addressed to determine the possibilities and critical factors for the use of waste and its transformation into hydrogen. The final objective of the research is to analyse the existing international, European and national legal barriers to strengthening the circular economy in terms of decarbonisation through the use of hydrogen and reducing dependence on carbonaceous fuels. From a methodological perspective, this project will first rely on doctrinal constructivism to retrieve, analyse and categorise the relevant legal sources, by focusing on the Spanish legal order. The comparative functional methodology will be used to compare the findings of the analysis in the Netherlands and in Finland. Finally, the results based on legal-dogmatic research and comparative research will be enriched by means of qualitative empirical methodology. By means of semi-structured interviews, stakeholders from the Netherlands, Spain and Finland involved in hydrogen production and usage as well as stakeholders active in the field of circular economy, will provide deeper insights about the experienced legal barriers and possible solutions.

Planned secondment(s):

The doctoral candidate will be supervised at URV by Prof. Endrius Cocciolo and Prof. Aitana de la Varga. Then, DC 2, during the second PhD year, will run for 6 months at RUG due to the special expertise in the field of circular economy of Prof. Squintani, who will serve as supervisor during the secondment. The stay at the RUG will be aimed at acquiring useful empirical analytical skills; DC 2 will also spend 4 months at UEF (Supervisor: Prof. Talus) to improve comparative legal skills. Finally, researcher 2 will spend 2 months at ICAEN, in the third doctoral year, to participate in policy-making processes, thus applying doctrinal, comparative and empirical skills in formulating energy policies related to hydrogen and circular economy.