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Fuel Cell Technology: A Green Driving Force towards Carbon Independence

September 29, 2020 | Energy & Power

Every region across the globe has observed a significant rise in energy demand over the years. Each country is adopting different technologies to provide essential power for various applications. However, rising carbon emission levels from the generating stations and end-user industries is a primary concern among nations to tackle climate change and global warming problems. Additionally, fuel cell technology is the best available alternative to the situation as it is a zero-carbon generating method that utilizes hydrogen fuel and discharges water and heat in place of any harmful fluid.

Fuel cells are categorized into six key types, namely Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC), Alkaline Fuel Cell (AFC), Phosphorus Acid Fuel Cell (PAFC), Molten Carbon Fuel Cell (MCFC), Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC), and Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC). However, only PEMFC, PAFC, and SOFC technologies have observed significant momentum over the years owing to their operational characteristics and application potential.

PEMFC: Leading the Industry in Every Way

Proton Exchange or Polymer Electrolyte Membrane technology (PEMFC) is largely integrated into a wide range of verticals owing to its compact size, lower weight, high energy density, enhanced durability, no-leak design, and many other features. In addition, the low operating temperature range enables the technology to be efficiently integrated into transport, as well as energy generation stations.

Comparison of Different Fuel Cell Technologies:


Common Electrolyte

Operating Temperature

Typical Stack Size


Usual Applications

Polymer Electrolyte Membrane

Perfluorosulfonic Acid

50-100 °C (usually about 80°C)

< 1kW – 100kW

60% transportation

35% stationary

Backup Power

Portable Power

Distributed Generation


Specialty Vehicles


Aqueous potassium hydroxide soaked in a porous matrix, or alkaline polymer membrane

90-100 °C

10 – 100 kW




Phosphoric Acid

Phosphoric acid soaked in a porous matrix or imbibed in a polymer membrane

150 – 200 °C

5–400 kW, 100 kW module


Distributed Generation

Molten Carbonate

Molten lithium, sodium, and/or potassium carbonates, soaked in a porous matrix


300 kW–3 MW


Electric Utility

Distributed Generation

Solid Oxide

Yttria stabilized zirconia


1 kW–2 MW


Auxiliary Power

Electric Utility

Distributed Generation

Source: Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE), United States Department of Energy (DoE)

Industry Snapshot:

Major participants in the global fuel cell industry are Bloom Energy, Ballard Power Systems, Hyundai Motor Company, Plug Power, Nuvera Fuel Cells, LLC, Nedstack Fuel Cell Technology, AVL, Umicore, Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, Ceres Power, AISIN SEIKI, Bosch, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, Panasonic, and many others.

Besides, various players across the industry are focusing on performing research & development activities to introduce new and efficient units with high power output to fortify their product reach and cater to the rising demand. For instance, in September 2020, industry giant Ballard Power Systems launched a new FCgen®-HPS product, a PEMFC stack designed for efficient installation in light, medium, & heavy-duty vehicles. The advanced addition is fabricated to provide up to 140 kW power at a maximum of 95 °C with an enhanced power density of about 4.3 kilowatts per liter (kW/L).

Fuel Cells Industry Continues to Play a Significant Role, Even During the COVID-19 Crisis

The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has deteriorated situations for various sectors. Several countries have undergone strict national lockdowns with halts in commercial & industrial operations, jeopardizing their economies. However, the fuel cell market is not much affected by the coronavirus outbreak as the global crisis has reflected upon the necessity of low-carbon power generation & transportation across the world.

Many nations worldwide are continuously focusing on taking the ‘green wave’ of low emissions caused by the shutdown of the operation at plants to a new level. Consequently, governments have also introduced several stimulus packages and economic benefits to boost the green technology infrastructure and transform the public transit fleet. For example, in June 2020, the Federal Government of Germany announced a Corona stimulus package worth USD 35.6 billion dedicated to the energy sector. The administration also stated that about 30% or USD 10.7 billion is for developing a hydrogen industry in the country. The nation also aims to construct industrial hydrogen production plants with a capacity of around 5 GW by 2030, along with an additional electrolyzer capacity of 5 GW by 2040.

Rising Focus to Advance the Application Potential to Pave the Way for New Opportunities

Continuous efforts by different public and private organizations to test & develop new application horizons and numerous collaborative efforts among industry players are likely to reveal new possibilities for FC systems. For example, in September 2020, H2Bus Consortium signed an agreement with an Irish bus manufacturer, Wrightbus, to deliver Fuel Cell Electric Buses (FCEBs) for the European market. The collaboration is set to embark upon fulfilling H2Bus Consortium’s target to include 1,000 FCEBs with zero tailpipe emissions and competitive & funded prices of about USD 442,000 for single-decker bus, USD 5.9 – 8.3 per kg hydrogen costs, and USD 0.3 – 0.4 per kilometer service cost.

Additionally, the industry has observed significant funding initiatives from government and non-government establishments to advance FC systems. The aim is to progress fuel cell usage  in applications such as cars, marine, rails, buses, construction, stationary, mining, and aerospace vehicles. For instance, in September 2020, the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) under the United States Department of Energy (DoE) awarded Cummins Inc to develop a hydrogen fuel cell to perform disaster relief operations, called H2Rescue. The federal funding for the project is assessed to be around USD 1 million to develop advanced fuel transportation alternatives for emergency tasks in military and civilian markets.

Growing Investments to Boost the Hydrogen Infrastructure will Help New Players to Enter the Market

Various countries have observed a substantial rise in the total hydrogen infrastructure investments to support the energy transition from conventional to hydrogen fuel across customer vehicle fleets such as passenger cars & commercial vehicles. For instance, in May 2020, the Federal Government of Australia declared to allocate about USD 200 million for the Advancing Hydrogen Fund to support new H2 projects in the country. The monetary grant was launched in accordance with its National Hydrogen Strategy to boost the Australian fuel cell transportation system and production & exports of hydrogen gas.

Hydrogen Refueling Station (HRS) Tally, By Key Countries:

Fuel Cell Technology: A Green Driving Force towards Carbon Independence

Source: International Energy Agency

Additionally, as per the International Energy Agency (IEA), 470 HRS were operational by the end of 2019, with over 45% of them located in Asia Pacific. Also, different governments as well as non-government undertakings, have observed a spike in the construction and operation of hydrogen fueling stations across the globe. Furthermore, huge fuel cell electric vehicle targets introduced by various governments to deploy more green energy transportation are likely to propel the demand for automotive fuel cells further.

Key Government Targets For Deployment of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs)




  • 5,000 vehicles and 100 stations by 2020

  • 50,000 vehicles and 300 stations by 2025

  • 1 million vehicles and 1,000 stations by 2030


  • 40,000 passenger cars, 100 buses, and 160 stations by 2020

  • 200,000 passenger cars and 320 stations by 2025

  • 800,000 passenger cars, 1,200 buses, and 900 stations by 2030

South Korea

  • 81,000 vehicles with 79,000 passenger cars and 2,000 buses along with 310 stations by 2022

  • 6.2 million vehicles with 5.9 million passenger cars, 120,000 taxis, 60,000 buses, and 120,000 trucks along with 1,200 stations by 2040

United States

  • 26,900 vehicles by 2022

  • 48,800 vehicles by 2025

  • 81,000 vehicles with 79,000 passenger cars and 2,000 buses along with 310 stations by 2022

  • Additionally, 1 million vehicles along with 1,000 stations by 2030 under the California Fuel Cell Partnership 2030 vision


  • 5,000 vehicles along with 100 stations by 2023

  • 20,000-50,000 vehicles along with 400-1,000 stations by 2028


  • 100 stations by 2020

  • 400 stations by 2025

  • 14 passenger trains start operation from 2021

  • 27 extra passenger trains by 2023

Consequently, encouraging carbon reduction regulations have favored the development of fuel cells over the years. Additionally, the short, medium, and long-term targets to momentously reform the transportation sector, along with committed projects for stationary fuel cell power generation such as ENE-FARM in Japan, is likely to augment the market size at an extraordinary pace.

About the Author

Name: Divyendu Sharma

Divyendu is a member of the energy & power team in Fortune Business Insights, one of the most promising market research firms in the industry. He is a petroleum engineer and has experience of nearly two years in the market research & consulting field. Divyendu has assisted multiple clients in the energy & power industry with customized analysis of various fields to deliver recommendations & strategies in relation to new product introductions, geographical expansion, and market entry.

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