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UK Carbon Trust report says fuel cell vehicles could take more than 30% of mid-sized car market by 2050

Ranges of automotive fuel cell system costs at mass manufactured volume using technology from three UK companies supported by the Carbon Trust. Source: Carbon Trust. Click to enlarge.

A new report released by the UK’s Carbon Trust concludes that with a continued focus on technology innovation to drive ongoing cost reductions, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) could take over 30% of the mid-sized car market by 2050.

The report is specifically focused on the potential for technology from select UK companies to enable a disruptive step-change in fuel cell cost reduction to accelerate consumer uptake, leading to approximately double the number of fuel cell cars on the road globally by 2030 versus current expectations. Some of the technologies could be applied in FCEVs as early as 2020, according to the report.

Independent analysis commissioned by the Carbon Trust predicts current polymer fuel cell technology will cost $49/kW in automotive applications when manufactured at mass scale (i.e. 500,000 units per year). However, in order to be competitive with internal combustion engine vehicles, automotive fuel cells must reach approximately $36/kW. Cost savings can be achieved by reducing material costs (notably platinum use), increasing power density, reducing system complexity and improving durability.

(The comparison with internal combustion engine cars is based on a total cost of ownership analysis that assumes a product lifetime of 15 years, no taxes or subsidies on the fuels used and a peak power output of 85 kW.)

The new report finds that reducing the cost to lower than $36/kW would lead to a significant market expansion with 200 million more fuel cell vehicles being deployed by 2050 taking the total to some 690 million fuel cell vehicles. This would increase the value of the global fuel cell vehicle market by $30 billion to $261 billion per year by 2050 with the market in the UK worth some $4 billion per year. It would also reduce global carbon emissions from vehicles by an additional 260 million tonnes per year by 2050—equivalent to the current annual emissions of Taiwan.

Our new analysis shows that the future is bright but innovation is essential to unlock the market potential by driving down the costs of new polymer fuel cells. The UK, through its leading companies, is in pole position to benefit from an expanded global market for fuel cell vehicles.

—James Wilde, Director of Innovation and Policy at the Carbon Trust

To support the realization of the requisite cost breakthroughs, the Carbon Trust set up the $10-million Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge (PFCC) to find and accelerate the development of technologies that could meet the $36/kW target. This initiative is now in its second phase, in which three groups developing fuel cell systems that could achieve this step-change in cost are moving from feasibility testing towards commercial development with partners:

The PFCC is now in its second phase where organizations with potential breakthrough technologies that could achieve this step-change in cost are moving from feasibility testing towards commercial development with industry partners. The Carbon Trust is currently supporting the following companies and organizations:

  • Itmpower
    ow ITM Power’s fuel cell technology reduces cost compared to current technology. Click to enlarge.

    ITM Power has developed a membrane with the potential to roughly double the power density of a cell. ITM Power’s membrane technology is also made from less costly hydrocarbons which can be easily mass produced.

    Under laboratory conditions, ITM Power’s membrane has already achieved 2.1W/cm2.

    ITM Power is a leading provider of electrolyzers (devices for generating hydrogen from water and electricity) and originally developed their membrane technology for that purpose.

  • Acal
    How ACAL Energy’s fuel cell design reduces cost compared to current technology. The increase in thermal management costs is due to ACAL’s catholyte regenerator. Click to enlarge.

    ACAL Energy has developed a liquid cathode with the potential to directly reduce platinum use by at least two-thirds and eliminates the need for some standard components of a fuel cell.

    On the cathode side, a specially designed liquid polymer solution absorbs the electrons and protons coming across the membrane. This catholyte continuously flows from the stack to an external regeneration vessel (the lungs). Here, the catholyte comes into contact with air and the electron, proton and oxygen from the air react to form water, which exits the regenerator as vapor. The regenerated catholyte then flows back to the fuel cell to absorb more electrons and protons.

  • Imperial-ucl
    How the Imperial/UCL fuel cell design reduces cost compared to current technology. Click to enlarge.

    Imperial College and University College London have developed a novel stackable cell architecture that uses low cost materials and manufacturing techniques with breakthrough potential in terms of cost reduction.

    By adapting printed circuit boards (PCBs), the researchers are developing anew way of building a fuel cell that is also significantly cheaper. The PCB industry is well established and has developed ultra-efficient manufacturing techniques. The new design could make use of this existing cost-effective production capability while also benefitting from PCB’s low material costs and ease of assembly into larger structures.

    The ‘Flexi-Planar’ design uses a layered arrangement of laminated printed circuit boards, bonded on top of each other, to create a stack with internal fuel, water and air channels. These channels, cut into the circuit boards, provide an efficient way of distributing the fuel cell reactants (oxygen from air and a fuel such as hydrogen). Once the fuel and oxygen have reacted these grooves then take away the resulting water that is produced from the reaction. PCBs are chemically resistant making them an excellent material for containing the reaction. They are also easy to assemble, and can be made using low-cost, high capacity manufacturing techniques.

The Carbon Trust is also working with Ilika in Phase 2. Ilika uses a unique, patented process up to ten times quicker and more efficient than traditional materials discovery processes and has applied this technique to the discovery and optimization of novel alloy catalysts for fuel cells. Once Ilika has identified novel compositions which have a high activity and low-cost, it partners with synthesis partners to scale-up this material for larger scale testing. Through this methodology Ilika has developed a palladium ternary alloy catalyst material which enables a 70% cost reduction for an equivalent power output versus the current precious metal standard.

Ilika’s catalyst could be a ‘drop-in’ technology— i.e., combined with existing FCEV stack designs and supply chain, without any architectural changes.

Ilika is now aiming to scale-up its catalyst technology and undertake pre- commercialization trials with automotive companies in 2012-2013.

Details of work to be carried out in the Carbon Trust PFCC Phase 2 are:

  • ITM Power will conduct performance and durability testing of membranes in a full‐scale (250 cm2) automotive cell and engage with automotive partner(s).

  • Acal Energy will develop a 10 kW (1/8th scale) automotive stack capable of achieving car makers’ current targets for cost, size, weight and durability and demonstrate the ability to handle cold start requirements. The company will target Joint Development Agreements with car makers by the end of 2014.

  • Imperial College and University College London will create an investable Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) and demonstrate a 1 kW stack in 9 months.

  • Ilika will select a partner to manufacture larger quantities of the alloy; send material to car companies for testing; and confirm the stability of the material at higher voltages.




Gas fuelled vehicles starting to be sold in significant numbers, over 110,000 in Italy in July, 11 per cent of new vehicle sales....

So it is possible to move from petrol and diesel to gas, in due course changing methane to hydrogen may be viable.....if its not, then as long as the methane made from waste via digestion or gasification or from H2 to CH4 processes, then we have pathway to carbon free transport


Car makers may have to provide the NG to H2 stations. They make money on the cars AND the fuel to get it going.


Now that they have cheap and reliable hydrogen fuelcell cars then now is the time to start making abondant cheap non-polluting hydrogen at the point of sale or better doing hydrogen into the car while driving or even when parked.

This hydrogen gas is almost free if produced by efficient methods with water. There is numerous efficient methods discovered and tested in labs. Now it's the time to show and implement modern hydrogen stations with a selling price by the kilo that should amounts to 1$ per kilogram or less, all that with small low cost machineries and without pollution.


Large long haul vehicles such as heavy trucks, buses, locomotives, many ships etc will be very good (first generation) candidates for FCs.

Somebody will have to design and install, small-medium-large hydrogen (making-storage-distribution) facilities at every 200-300 miles or so on all existing highways. In USA, hydrogen facilities installed at major highway intersections could limit the (minimum) project to about 100-150 large facilities.

Since those facilities will be high revenue money making, many investors will fight to be selected. Existing hydrogen industries will certainly be interested. Most public utilities (electricity, gas, coal etc) and Big Oil will also fight to get their hands on those gold mines. Smart municipalities will also want their share etc.


More green dreaming from the green propaganda machine...


I suspect that alcohol or hydrocarbon SOFC's or MCFC's would have much greater volumetric energy density (even with CO2 capture and storage) than HFC's.  This is especially true for large installations, such as ships.

Hydrogen is a solution in search of a problem.


D....dreams often become reality. If you stop dreaming you will be stuck with the status quo for the rest of your life and will go backward relative to others.

Somebody 'had a dream' for more equity and freedom a few years ago and one of them has been President for almost 4 years and may well be there for another 4 years.

Do not stop dreaming...

Roger Pham

Good point, and very eloquently stated, HarveyD!


Hydrogen as a fuel is a complete fraud. It takes more energy (and money) to maker hydrogen than just using that same energy directly. Just read

and other reports from


Just7tme, that depends on if you're producing it with renewables but strictly speaking, hydrogen is NOT an energy source, that is correct.

It is a medium and not the best medium at that. Alcohol or ethanol if produced through non-feedstock byproduct may in fact be a better and more energy dense(or at least more energy available) option. Fuel cells work quite well with ethanol as compared to methanol which fouls the PEM. Alcohol could also bge used with subtle modification in existing ICEs and therefore would offer a good bridge to batteryh electric.

Has anyone considered making a "Baghdad battery" style system whereby alcohol is the electrolyte in a battery, can be refilled at the gas station (or the liquor store :) ) to run cars? Just a thought. The chemistry must already exist for that.

Alan Parker

Here we go again. By 2050 who knows what the state of battery or even ICE technology will be?

Hydrogen fuel cells have only so far to go given the inherent physics involved.

No report should 'project' anything further than 5 years out, it just does not make sense.


We don't have to project that long-term investments made today will create pressure which bends future developments and behaviors in their direction; we know this is the case.  Pipelines, refineries and other infrastructure may bankrupt its builders, but once it's there it will be used if it doesn't mean having to make new investments.

This is part of why hydrogen is a mistake; it creates an infrastructure which favors suppliers of natural gas and coal over other sources of energy.


E-P.....using current low cost NG/SG and/or Coal to produce hydrogen is a short term solution. Eventually, we could produce, store and distribute hydrogen with clean electricity and water at most major highway intersections in USA, specially for heavy long haul FC vehicles and eventually for FC cars.

Calvin Brock

The new Ricardo Vehicle Emissions Research Centre (VERC) will be capable of researching and developing emission reduction technologies and incorporating these technologies into hybridized, 4-wheel drive, and advanced technology vehicles. apartments in london

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