Carbon Trust £2million boost to UK fuel-cell technology

Carbon Trust has given support to two UK fuel cell pioneers who are working to deliver a much needed step change reduction in the cost of the technology.  Carbon Trust is supporting Runcorn-based ACAL Energy and Sheffield-based ITM Power by providing £1.95m of investment.

The cutting-edge fuel cell technology could be used under the bonnet of hydrogen-powered cars by 2017-2020.  Major manufacturers have already built hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars, but the real challenge is to bring down the costs and, in the global race to do this, UK technologies are now in a strong position.

Production of state of the art fuel cell systems currently under development globally are forecast to cost approximately $50/kW at mass manufacture volumes. However, analysis by the Carbon Trust indicates that for these future fuel cell vehicles to compete with internal combustion engine cars, the cost of fuel cell systems must be reduced to about $35/kW[1]. Significant additional technological breakthroughs are needed to achieve this target of a 30% cost reduction.

Analysis by the Carbon Trust has identified that innovative technologies being developed by ITM Power and ACAL Energy have the potential to reach this automotive cost target if significant technological hurdles can be overcome.

One of the most important factors for bringing down the cost, size and weight of a fuel cell is increasing its power density - the amount of power produced for the size of the fuel cell.  Based on data provided by ITM Power, analysis by the Carbon Trust indicates that their membrane technology has the potential, subject to overcoming a number of technological hurdles, to reduce fuel cell costs to about $35/kW. As a result, the Carbon Trust is investing £1.1m which will be earmarked to further develop and scale-up ITM Power's membrane technology for use in automotive applications.

Another significant way to bring down the cost of polymer fuel cells is to reduce the amount of platinum used.  ACAL Energy have developed a revolutionary new design of fuel cell that they call FlowCathTM. Inspired by the human lung and bloodstream, it uses a circulating liquid polymer cathode, creating a virtually platinum free low-cost system with the added potential benefit of increased durability, making it highly attractive to vehicle manufacturers for their next generation fuel cell vehicles. Analysis by the Carbon Trust, based on data provided by ACAL Energy, indicates that this technology also has the potential, subject to overcoming the technological hurdles, to reduce fuel cell system costs to about $35/kW. As a result, a further £850k has been invested by the Carbon Trust into ACAL Energy for continued development and scale-up of their FlowCathTM system.

The two investments come from the Carbon Trust's Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge (PFCC) which was launched in 2009 to support the Department for Energy and Climate Change's objectives to develop lower cost fuel cells and follows this year's launch of the Government's UKH2Mobility project to ensure the UK is well positioned for the commercial roll-out of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Driving down costs is essential to help fuel cells reach their potential in today's market place. These exciting Carbon Trust investments, supported by government funding, should help to do just that, opening up new mass markets and securing major carbon savings. I look forward to seeing the results from these two innovative companies.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker

British technology is in pole position to be under the bonnet of a next generation of mass-produced hydrogen-powered cars. After a lot of hype, fuel cell technology is now a great growth opportunity for the UK. It is anticipated that the first generation of hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars are likely to roll off production lines around 2015. While they are expected to be lower-carbon than internal combustion engines, they will also be more costly. The investments we have announced today we believe will help develop the technologies needed to bring down the costs of the next generation of fuel cell vehicles so that they can become price competitive with conventional internal combustion engine cars in the future.

Michael Rea, Chief Operating Officer at the Carbon Trust

ITM and the Carbon Trust have developed a productive relationship during the two fuel cell projects that the Carbon Trust has provided funds to support. Their understanding of the technological advances required to accelerate commercial uptake of fuel cells is deep and well aligned with our own. I am delighted by their decision to invest to help us further develop our membrane technology for automotive fuel cell applications.

Simon Bourne, CTO, ITM Power Plc

Acal Energy has benefitted from Carbon Trust support over a long period and we really appreciate the expert knowledge that has enabled the Carbon Trust to understand the cost and performance benefits of our technology. This project will allow the company to demonstrate automotive performance and durability targets with our FlowCath® technology and accelerate our system development programme for the automotive sector.

Brendan Bilton, UK Managing Director, ACAL Energy Ltd


Carbon Trust's Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge aims to speed the UK towards world-beating polymer fuel cell solutions that could grab a significant share of the global fuel cell market. The Carbon Trust has estimated that achieving a cost reduction to $35/kW could unlock a fuel cell vehicle market that alone could be worth $210bn, and save 750 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050.

[1] The Carbon Trust cost analysis applies to projected costs for the period 2030-2050, when fuel cell vehicles reach mass production quantities (500,000 units per year). The comparison with internal combustion engine cars is based on a total cost of ownership analysis that assumes a product lifetime of 15 years, no taxes or subsidies on the fuels used and a peak power output of 85kW.

Notes to editors

For more information and to speak to a Carbon Trust spokesperson, please contact the Carbon Trust press office:

Tel no: 020 7170 7050

About the Carbon Trust

The Carbon Trust is an independent company with a mission to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy. 

It advises businesses, governments and the public sector on their opportunities in a sustainable, low carbon world.

It measures and certifies the environmental footprint of organisations, supply chains and products.

It helps develop and deploy low carbon technologies and solutions, from energy efficiency to renewable power.

Background on the Carbon Trust Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge (PFCC):

Recognising the UK's unique expertise in fuel cells the Carbon Trust Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge (PFCC) was launched in 2009 to support the Department for Energy and Climate Change's objectives to develop lower cost fuel cells.  The aim of the PFCC is to deliver a step-change in costs and open up mass market applications such as powering cars and buses. 

Carbon Trust analysis indicates that reaching a $35/kW automotive fuel cell system cost target could boost the market share of fuel cell vehicles by 10% - or 160 million vehicles - by 2050. These extra fuel cell vehicles equate to an additional $25bn polymer fuel cell market value, along with an additional 220 million tonnes of CO2 savings globally. The overall fuel cell vehicle market in 2050 could be worth $210bn, and save 750 million tonnes of CO2. Carbon Trust ran a nationwide competition to identify the breakthrough technologies that could achieve the $35/kW target and unlock this significant prize.