The Carbon Trust has announced new funding two new technologies that they believe will help bring down the cost of fuel cells.
The organisation will invest £2 million to help further develop a membrane technology and virtually platinum-free fuel cell system as part of the scheme. The two companies behind the products will also use the money to scale up production capabilities in an effort to capture a greater share of the global fuel cell market.
Hydrogen-powered cars driven by fuel cells already exist but costs remain relatively high. Production of the most high-tech fuel cell systems currently in development worldwide is forecast to cost approximately $50/kW when mass-manufactured. But if future fuel cell vehicles are to compete with cars that have internal combustion engines, the cost of the systems must fall by about 30% to $35/kW.
This cost reduction requires significant technological breakthroughs. The Carbon Trust said that the UK is now in a strong position to achieve this. Michael Rea, chief operating officer at the Carbon Trust, said: “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.”
He added: “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.”
As part of the investment, £1.1 million will go to Sheffield company ITM Power to help ramp up fuel cell power density by further developing its membrane technology. Analysis by the Carbon Trust suggests that with further development ITM's membrane technology may be able to bring down the costs of fuel cells to about $35/kW.
Another significant factor behind the cost of fuel cells is the amount of platinum they contain. Runcorn company Acal Energy has developed what it claims is a revolutionary new design of fuel cell, known as FlowCath, that is virtually platinum-free. It is inspired by the human lung and bloodstream and uses a circulating liquid polymer cathode. The Carbon Trust is investing £850,000 in the technology after analysis indicated it has the potential to reduce fuel cell system costs by 30%.
Greg Baker, energy and climate change minister, said: “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.”
At $35/kW the fuel cell market is estimated to be worth $210 billion and could save 750 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050.