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Polymer electrolyte membrane hydrogen fuel cell


Technology Description

A hydrogen fuel cell system generates electric power from hydrogen. Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) have much smaller batteries than battery electric vehicles (at least by a factor of 10), as the energy is stored in the hydrogen. By exploiting the higher gravimetric energy density of hydrogen, FCEVs can offer a higher range than BEVs. However their continuing deployment faces multiple technical and economic challenges, including: safety of hydrogen handling (refuelling, residual leakage), on-board hydrogen storage (see the dedicated entry below) and the high cost of the fuel cell stack (the electrochemical reaction inside the stack requires a proton exchange membrane (PEM) coated with a platinum-based catalyst, a costly material) and system. Costs of the fuel cell stack and system are expected to decline significantly with economies of scale.
For FCEVs to be competitive with other powertrain technologies, hydrogen must be delivered to hydrogen refuelling stations using technologies that lead to zero or very low lifecycle emissions, at prices that bring per-kilometre costs into the same range as conventional ICEs, or of battery electric vehicles powered by grid electricity. This will require further cost reductions in technologies for low- and zero-carbon hydrogen production technologies (e.g. SMR with CCS, renewable electricity generation such as wind and solar coupled to electrolysers), as well as in hydrogen transmission and distribution networks and in hydrogen refuelling stations (HRS).

Relevance for Net Zero

For electric vehicles, fuel cell technology represents a complementary solution to reduce dependency on batteries. The need for critical Li-ion battery materials would be alleviated (at the expense of an increased demand for platinum).

Key Countries

Japan, Korea, North America

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