The future’s bright for fuel cells

A new report released today by the Carbon Trust outlines how innovative UK companies are at the forefront of achieving breakthroughs in polymer fuel cells which could address cost, the main barrier to the wide scale deployment of polymer fuel cells. The report, to be launched today at a major Fuel Cell conference[1] in London, states that a continued focus on technology innovation could make fuel cell cars cost competitive with internal combustion engine cars and lead to them forming a third of all vehicles on the road by 2050.

Polymer fuel cells operate at lower temperatures and are smaller and lighter than other fuel cells, making them more suitable for use in cars and vans. Current state-of-the-art polymer fuel cells are predicted to cost $49 per kilowatt in automotive applications when manufactured at scale.  

In order to be competitive with internal combustion engine vehicles, automotive fuel cells must reach a cost of approximately $36 per kilowatt[2]. Cost savings can be achieved by reducing material costs (notably platinum use), while increasing power density, reducing system complexity and improving durability.

The Carbon Trust is supporting five UK organisations; ITM Power, Acal Energy, Ilika, Imperial College and University College London through its $10m Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge to reduce the costs of polymer fuel cells.

The new report shows that reducing the cost to better than $36/kW would lead to a dramatic market expansion with 200 million more fuel cell vehicles being deployed by 2050 taking the total to some 690 million fuel cell vehicles. This would increase the value of the global fuel cell vehicle market by $30bn to $261bn a year by 2050 with the market in the UK worth some $4bn a year.  It would also reduce global carbon emissions from vehicles by an additional 260 million tonnes per year by 2050 - equivalent to the current annual emissions of Taiwan.

James Wilde, Director of Innovation and Policy at the Carbon Trust said:

"Our new analysis shows that the future is bright but innovation is essential to unlock the market potential by driving down the costs of new polymer fuel cells.  The UK, through its leading companies, is in pole position to benefit from an expanded global market for fuel cell vehicles."

The Carbon Trust's Polymer Fuel Cell Challenge is now in its second phase where organisations with potential breakthrough technologies that could achieve this step-change in cost are moving from feasibility testing towards commercial development with industry partners.  The Carbon Trust is currently supporting the following companies and organisations:

ITM Power - have developed a membrane with the potential to roughly double the power density of a cell, producing more 'bang' for the platinum 'buck';

ACAL Energy - have developed a liquid cathode with the potential to directly reduce platinum use by at least two thirds and eliminates the need for some standard components of a fuel cell;

Imperial College and University College London - have developed a novel stackable cell architecture that uses low cost materials and manufacturing techniques with breakthrough potential in terms of cost reduction; and,

Ilika, a company that specialises in developing new materials have developed a platinum free catalyst which, on a cost/performance basis, that has the potential to be 70% cheaper than the current industry standard.


For further information please contact the Carbon Trust press office on 020 7170 7050 or email

About the Carbon Trust

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

  • advises businesses, governments and the public sector on opportunities in a sustainable, low-carbon world;
  • measures and certifies the environmental footprint of organisations, products and services;
  • helps develop and deploy low-carbon technologies and solutions, from energy efficiency to renewable power

Notes to editors

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. 

[1] Key findings of the report will be presented at the Clean Tech investor Conference - Investing in Fuel Cells: The Resurgence on the 27th September - see:

[2] 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.