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DOE analysis finds ongoing decrease in direct fuel cell vehicle costs

A new analysis of the cost of current (2017) direct hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by a team from the Department of Energy, Argonne National Laboratory and Strategic Analysis found the lowest estimated system cost to date for high annual production rates.

The highest volume predictions, for 100,000 and 500,000 units per year, result in a total system cost of $50/kWnet and $45/kWnet, respectively. DOE’s 2025 target is $40/kWnet; the ultimate goal is $30/kWnet—essentially cost-parity with ICEVs. The analysis is published in the Journal of Power Sources.

The DOE has devoted funding to analyze and track the cost of automotive fuel cell systems. Cost analysis enables targeting areas of R&D to drive cost reduction by identifying cost drivers and then allocating R&D funding most effectively. The system design and component manufacturing models are updated annually, such that the impact of new technologies and progress towards meeting cost targets can be appraised. The present work is a cost projection summary, performed and updated in 2017 by Strategic Analysis Inc. (SA), for an 80 kWnet direct hydrogen PEMFC system using next-generation components suitable for powering a light-duty vehicle. The cost analysis was performed for manufacture rates from 1000 to 500,000 systems per year.

The particular designs and components are primarily based on non-proprietary public reports, presentations by fuel cell companies and other researchers, and the patent literature. Although a system design and cost estimate based on open-source current technology systems is unable to probe as-to-yet unrevealed proprietary technologies in industry, a reasonable benchmark is possible on the basis of the publicly available information supplemented by quotes and feedback from industry and the fuel cell R&D community. Furthermore, the cost analysis relies on stack performance modeling from Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and coordination with experts in manufacturing quality control at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Input gathered from an annual briefing of the assumptions and results to the US DRIVE (Driving Research and Innovation in Vehicle efficiency and Energy sustainability) Fuel Cell Technology Team (FCTT) grounds the baseline system in up-to-date, real-world experience.

—Thompson et al.


2017 LDV automotive fuel cell system: fuel cell stack and balance of plant, including air loop, fuel loop, and high- (HTL) and low-temperature liquid (LTL) coolant loops. Hydrogen storage tank and valve (enclosed in dashed lines) not included in cost analysis. Thompson et al.

To identify cost drivers, the team used a four-step approach is used: (1) system conceptual design; (2) system physical design with the creation of a bill of materials based on physical design to include definition of subsystems, components, materials, fabrication and assembly processes, dimensions, and other key information; (3) cost modeling predominately using Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA) to estimate manufacturing and assembly cost of the FC power system, and (4) continuous evaluation for cost reduction.

The team found that advances in increasing the power density and decreasing the platinum content of the cathode catalyst (set to a total loading of 0.125 g/cm2 geometric area) enabled the decreased cos. However, the catalyst and bi-polar plate cost remain the greatest contributors to the stack cost at high production volume, primarily due to the Pt and stainless steel content.

The team found that the cost of these commodity materials is less dependent on manufacturing volume; the researchers recommended that alternatives be pursued. The compressor-expander motor (CEM) unit remains the greatest single component cost in the balance of plant (BOP).

The authors said new designs and manufacturing methods are needed to decrease the air loop cost, which causes more variability in system cost than any other factor investigated, followed by air stoichiometry and power density.


Component cost breakdown at a production volume of 500,000 units/yr: a) for the 2017 FC system and b) for the FC stack. Thompson et al.

Overall, the analysis continues to provide direction for the strategic development of fuel cell components to bring FC systems to cost parity, and future efforts to incorporate more information about durability of individual components and materials into the model will provide an improved snapshot of a real system.

—Thompson et al.


  • Simon T. Thompson, Brian D. James, Jennie M. Huya-Kouadio, Cassidy Houchins, Daniel A. DeSantis, Rajesh Ahluwalia, Adria R. Wilson, Gregory Kleen, Dimitrios Papageorgopoulos (2018) “Direct hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle cost analysis: System and high-volume manufacturing description, validation, and outlook,” Journal of Power Sources, Volume 399, Pages 304-313 doi: 10.1016/j.jpowsour.2018.07.100



It's a pity that we didn't get any cost estimates with the SOFC development announcement from the other day.  It would be good to compare the two different techologies side by side.  One element that doesn't get mentioned often is packaging constraints.  700 bar hydrogen tanks are forced to be tubular, generally long narrow tubes, and generally have to be built into vehicle floors or truck beds.  Liquid fuel tanks can be made in a much wider variety of shapes and packaged much more easily.  This favors methanol SOFC over H2 PEMFC.

Another issue is the BOP.  Do SOFCs require the same sophistication of compressor-expander?  They do NOT require coolant loops.  That is going to be a big thing.


PEMFCs are currently ideal for use on all weather long range smaller vehicles. SOFCs may be superior as range extenders for very long range heavier, hybrid trucks, buses and trains.

As for current ICEVs parts and sub-assemblies; parts and sub-assemblies for PEMFCs and SOFCs could be mass produced at a much lower cost in China, India, Mexico, Brazil and where labor cost is lower and often more productive. Final assembly in large trucks, buses and trains could be carried out where end users are.

Pooling parts and sub-assemblies mass production in well located very large factories could/would improve quality while reducing unit cost.


More news this week on Hydrogen extraction from Ammonia.
Transported as Ammonia as is common today the new bit is a low cost membrane for extracting high purity H for fuel cells.


Yeah, going from gaseous H2 to NH3 is a big advance.


Oh, those idiots:

CSIRO researchers found a way to turn Australian-made hydrogen into ammonia, meaning it could be shipped safely to the mass market of Asia.

It is converted back into hydrogen using their membrane, then pumped into hydrogen-powered cars.

They're using the same damn high-pressure gas on the car, when the whole point of using ammonia is to get rid of those HP tanks!  You put the reformer in the car!

I swear, people can't see solutions even when they're right in front of their faces.


It may eventually be possible to install membrane (Ammonia/H2) reformers on board FCEVs and store the left-over gases on board for further use?

It may be necessary to compress the left-over gases and use the high pressure tanks intended for compressed H2?

No real net gain unless you release the left-over gases in the atmosphere and create more pollution and GHGs?


Harvey, ammonia is NH3.  Nitrogen is 78% of the atmosphere.  It creates no pollution whatsoever.

Not long ago we had a news item about an electric natural gas reformer, purifier and hydrogen compressor.  The same thing would work here, just crack the ammonia and pump the hydrogen out.  You could keep a small medium-pressure H2 tank to start the vehicle and pre-heat the reformer and refill it while in operation.

Remember, liquid ammonia at room temperature has a density of .609, which is 107 grams of hydrogen per liter.  You can't get close to that with H2 gas.


This effort has been in the news since Nov '17? and this is the first public demonstration.
It seemed obvious that if it a low cost simple process that it should end up on board as you say
. The reasons that might work against that besides the time to develop would be size constraints for packaging - if that were a prob and some decision made along the lines of sufficient range from nominal 5KG's H. It may be that the C.S.I.R.O. team is working at its limit on the big picture with a view to selling or licensing the intellectual property as is their usual practice.
As understood by any informed observer the compressed H2 is hazardous material and the technology challenging the type of problems we should wish to avoid.

Of course we know Ammonia also is a hazardous toxic material, you really don't want it on you or breath it as the vapours will peel your skin.


Ammonia is at least something you can easily detect with your nose before it becomes hazardous.  Hydrogen is both odorless and explosive, both chemically and at even 350 bar just plain physically.  Today's PEMFC vehicles store their fuel at 700 bar.

A source I stumbled on said that H2 gas at room temperature reaches the density of LH2 at 800 bar pressure.  LH2 has a density of just 0.07; saturated ammonia liquid at room temperature has a hydrogen density of 0.107, more than 50% greater.  The sodium amide process for separating hydrogen from NH3 has been public knowledge for some time.  Why is ANYONE still pushing high-pressure H2 gas?

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