By Sergio Goncalves
LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's government has selected more than 30 multi-billion euro hydrogen projects interested in building production units of so-called "green" energy in the country after the coronavirus pandemic.
The selection comes as Portugal prepares an application to Europe's Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) scheme for hydrogen, part of a strategy to speed up renewable hydrogen projects in polluting sectors.
In a statement late on Monday, the environment ministry said the government received 74 expressions of interest but only 37 projects, representing a total investment of around nine billion euros, passed to the next phase.
More information will be required after this phase, and then the final round of projects that will be part of the application will be announced.
Portugal's utility EDP-Energias de Portugal, oil group Galp, holding company REN and others announced they were one of the selected consortiums.
They aim to create an industrial project for the production of "green" hydrogen, a cleaner energy source than fossil fuels, near Sines, south of Lisbon.
"The project has an important international dimension, both for its export vocation and for the mobilisation of partners with extensive experience in the hydrogen value chain," the consortium said in a statement.
In April, Environment Minister Joao Matos Fernandes told Reuters Portugal wanted a greener post-coronavirus future, aiming to build a solar-powered hydrogen unit near the port of Sines, which would start in a year and could attract up to 5 billion euros of private investment.
The goal is to extract "green" hydrogen from water using electrolysis, an energy-intensive but carbon-free process if powered by renewable electricity.
However, a group of economists and energy experts signed a manifesto last week against the government's hydrogen strategy, warning it would cost double or triple more than to produce energy using natural gas.
(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves, Editing by Ed Osmond)