The greatest challenge for fuel cell mobility is the availability of hydrogen fuel and refuelling infrastructure, according to a new IDTechEx report.
The lack of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure has hindered fuel cell vehicle rollout for at least the past decade, the report states, although Japan, Korea, Germany, California and China are supporting initiatives to address the problem.
Hydrogen fuel used in transportation is primarily grey hydrogen produced by steam methane reforming of natural gas, which at best, offers a “very limited” carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction over modern combustion engines, according to IDTechEx.
Several recent announcements have been made about funding support to produce low-carbon blue and green hydrogen. In September, the EU approved $5.2bn in public funding for green hydrogen projects, and the US announced plans for a $7bn investment to establish up to 10 regional hydrogen hubs.
However, at this stage, neither the cheap renewable energy generation resource required to produce cheap green hydrogen nor the carbon capture and storage technologies required for blue hydrogen have been demonstrated at a scale that can deliver low carbon hydrogen with a pump price competitive with diesel, petrol, or electric charging.
“Development efforts are likely to take considerable time and require significant investment,” the report notes.
Fuel cell vehicles are attracting attention, but they are currently expensive to buy, expensive to operate, and the hydrogen fuel and refuelling infrastructure is not widely available to support them.
Although fuel cell powertrains hold a range advantage today, the continued wait for a point of viable commercial deployment means rapidly improving battery powertrains are eroding this advantage, according to the report.
The long-range niche for fuel cell vehicles will continue to shrink the longer the wait for infrastructure and cost-effective, low-carbon hydrogen fuel. Next year is likely to be a difficult year for fuel cell vehicles, with high gas prices worldwide leading to high grey hydrogen prices.