Hydrogen and fuel cell energy are revolutionising energy markets across the world. Government, industry and the public will all play vital roles:

  • Government will support technology research and development and encourage market development and early adoption of fuel cell and hydrogen energy technologies through appropriate policies.
  • Industry will determine the moment when different technologies will reach the market. It will build wealth and contribute to the economic growth through manufacture, distribution and support.
  • Industry and the public will jointly define consumer needs and market acceptance of these clean energy solutions.
  • Fuel cells and hydrogen can:

  • provide the only feasible, low-carbon solution to future transport by replacing today’s petrol and diesel cars
  • deliver electricity and heat at scales ranging from residential through to utility scale;
  • address problem of intermittency with increasing share of renewable generation in the UK energy portfolio; and
  • act as battery replacements in a variety of electronic devices.
  • Transport markets

    The most significant long term market is in passenger cars, and major auto makers have been investing significantly in fuel cell electric vehicle development. Almost every auto maker is demonstrating a fuel cell electric vehicle. Fleet vehicle demonstrations are taking place in North America, Japan and Europe.

    A key requirement for fuel cell vehicles is the development of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. A recent report identified ~150 hydrogen refuelling stations either in existence or planned by 2014 [1]. With the appropriate support policies, these initial facilities will evolve via clusters to a comprehensive infrastructure.

    Recent study by McKinsey stated that the costs of developing a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure will be comparable to those for other technologies (e.g. a charging infrastructure for battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (excluding potential investment in power distribution networks which, depending on local conditions, might be required for BEVs).

    Fuel cell powered buses, motorbikes, planes and specialist vehicles are also being launched across the world, as is ‘On-board’ power to cover idling power and ‘hotel’ loads.

    Stationary power markets

    Stationary power markets include:

    Residential units (1-7kW) are now being demonstrated across a number of countries; they are generally fuelled by natural gas, propane or methanol. Waste heat can be used for space heating and hot water. Where infrastructures allow it, surplus electrical energy can be sold back to the local electric utility.

    Larger stationary fuel cell installations are a reality now. A total of 120MW of fuel cell technology was shipped and installed in 2009, with over 100MW to supply the growing demand across the stationary power market [2].

    The stationary market is potentially very large, especially taking into account the prospect for every residential boiler to be replaced by a fuel cell, and for every data centre to become low carbon.

    Portable power markets

    Portable power markets include:

    As battery replacements, fuel cells offer several key benefits. In particular, they can easily meet evolving power requirements driven by increasing functionality. Furthermore, there is no charge-up time, as most portable fuel cell technologies are being developed to use cartridges of fuel which are instantly replaceable. Fuel cells also offer silent operation.

    Energy storage

    A recent report by the Bow Group – one of the UK leading policy think tanks – states that ‘Britain’s target of producing up to 34% of electricity and 15% of all energy from renewables by 2020 cannot be met unless the energy from these renewables is harnessed, stored and used more effectively as a carbon free fuel by industry, transport and households’.

    The cost of any energy infrastructure is dominated by those few hours or days per year when demand peaks. Hydrogen provides a solution by which low cost renewable energy can be stored and used as and when required. Whilst most energy storage methods are only applicable at modest size and timescales (up to several hours), hydrogen is unique in being able to cost-effectively accommodate huge storage capacities over long timescales (days to weeks).

    A substantial market opportunity for electrolysis in grid balancing operations already exists in Spain, with markets in Germany, Denmark and other countries growing in line with the increasing share of renewable generation in national energy portfolios. A new range of highly efficient electrolysers is being developed specifically to respond to these market opportunities and to convert intermittent renewable energy into hydrogen far more efficiently than before.

    2. Cleantech Magazine Fuel Cell Special, Volume 4, Issue 5, September 2010