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UK Carbon Trust Launches PEM Fuel Cells Challenge, Striving for a Critical Reduction in Costs

The UK Carbon Trust launched the “Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge”, which aims to accelerate the commercialization of UK technology that could see the mainstream cost-effective mass production of fuel cell powered cars and buses, as well as providing electricity and heat in homes and business.

The £8 million (US$12.8 million, €8.7 million) Polymer Fuel Cell Challenge will be split into two phases. A newly opened call for proposals will result in the selection of up to three novel ideas, offering up to £1 million (US$1.6 million, €1.1 million) per project to further develop and prove them. If one of these demonstrates its potential for lower-cost fuel cell systems, the Carbon Trust will then co-invest up to £5 million (US$8 million, €5.4 million) in the technology to develop it commercially.

The initiative aims to deliver the critical reduction in fuel cell system costs that must be achieved to make mass market deployment a reality. New Carbon Trust analysis shows that if substantial cuts can be achieved, the global market could be worth over $26 billion in 2020 and more than $180 billion in 2050. The UK share of this market could be $1 billion in 2020 rising to $19 billion in 2050, according to the Carbon Trust.

Fuel cells have been ten years away from a real breakthrough for the past 20 years. This is a critical moment for UK fuel cell technology as emerging markets combine with technology cost breakthroughs to create a golden opportunity to launch world-beating products onto a massive global market. Our initiative aims to drive forward the commercialization of the UK’s unique fuel cell expertise which will play a crucial role in the UK’s Clean Tech Revolution both cutting carbon and creating jobs and economic value.

—Dr Robert Trezona, Head of Research and Development at the Carbon Trust

Current fuel cell system costs are still too high by a factor of at least ten for widespread uses. These costs could be brought down in the future through volume production, but projections cited by the Carbon Trust show that even then, with today’s technology, costs would remain too high by 30-40% for most markets. The Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge will aim to support those breakthroughs that will allow high-volume costs to come down by 35%, making fuel cell systems attractive for mass markets.

The Carbon Trust is focusing on polymer fuel cells for three reasons:

  • they can be used in many different products, including all the applications with a strong prospect for carbon savings (cars, buses, combined heat and power);

  • the horizontal structure of the polymer fuel cell supply chain allows the development of new businesses to market component technologies rather than requiring the development of completely new systems; and

  • there is capacity and appetite from the UK research and industry community to deliver breakthrough polymer fuel cell technologies, which the Carbon Trust has confirmed with extensive recent engagement.

The Carbon Trust is an independent company set up in 2001 by the UK government in response to the threat of climate change, to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy by working with organizations to reduce carbon emissions and develop commercial low carbon technologies.



.....Ten years away from real breakthrough for the last twenty years.....

That sounds a lot like lithium batteries. Both technologies need more reasearch and major breakthroughs.

With enough resources worldwide it may come in time for affordable mass production by 2020.

Will one of the two technologies find more applications or will both compete in their own niche?


It is like what the guy said in "Who Killed the Electric Car", fuel cells are great except they are expensive, don't last and don't like cold weather, other than that they are great.

The P in PEM stands for Proton, so it looks like they are advocating a Polymer version of the cell. There were polymer lithium batteries that were suppose to take the world by storm years ago. Electrovaya does make them today, but they have not revolutionized the world.


sjc the newer fuel cells can cold start just as well as n ice engine can. The 4th gen gm fuel cell was lasting 80k miles and the 5th gen is expected to start at 120k miles and improve from there.

As for cost.. they all seem quite certain the cost can come down a huge amount in just a few years.


KK Japan claimed that they can replace expensive platinum in their polymer PEMFC with much cheap materials and produce a much cheap FC with superior performance.

A few more breadthroughs like that one and FC may eventually become affordable and compete with e-storage units for extended range vehicles.


Forget about fuel cells. They will never be a practical source for automotive power.


I would imagine that they will make them lower cost, last longer and run better in cold weather, but will they solve the imported oil problem? Probably not anytime soon. That does not mean the we should not do them and all kinds of other things that will help, but we should be realistic on our expectations concerning the outcome versus the costs, time frame and probability.


Time, and millions of dollars in research, will eventually solve all the problems of fuel cells.

OTOH the same can be said of BEVs. As it stands, even now a BEV can handle 90% of the private driving needs in America and a 10 year old design [the EV1] could handle 95%. And infrastructure can handle the final 5%. We can't yet say that of fuel cells.


The greatest advantage may come from the way the fuel cells effectively separate the hydrogen. This means the CO2 is removed before use so storage and sequestration or reuse is readily achieved.

Pre combustion? carbon capture is a no brainer.

Carlos Fandango

Aww for goodness sake give up with this hydrogen fuel cell smoke.

They missed out on the first round of finance because fuel cells are just an expensive range extending option for EV's.

A KWh of solar energy will take you further in a BEV than that same KWh converted to hydrogen and put in a fuel cell car. Just look at the solar cells used to produce hydrogen for the Honda car. LOL what were Honda thinking?

A KWh of natural gas reformed into hydrogen and used in a fuel cell car may (or may not) take you further than a KWh of gas in a CNG car. But, I don't really care. Because it doesn't do much to reduce AGW and it will suck for consumers who get locked into an complex engine with limited distribution of expensive fuel.

Just because they whined unfair and campaigned for more funds to support their high paying R&D jobs. Don't start feeling sorry for them. They will turn you round and screw you sensless in the bat of an eyelid.


Lucas is correct.

What self-respecting punter is going to buy a car that costs 4-5 times as much to fill up each time as compared to a PHEV?

Even if the nutters in power push fuel cells forward the general public will still see sense.


Multiple FC + very large hydrogen tanks may have applications for extra long range heavy vehicles such as trucks, inter-city buses, trains, ships (airplanes?) etc.

Future cars will be BEVs, starting with city short range type (now) and much longer range ten years latter or by 2020.

Both technologies will probably survive and even compete for certain applications. By their simple nature and e-energy abondance and existing distribution, BEVs will be the end winners.

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