Browse Publications Technical Papers EPR2020002
2020-02-27

Unsettled Issues Concerning the Use of Fuel Cells in Electric Ground Vehicles EPR2020002

Lately, the idea of using hydrogen in automotive applications is gaining significant momentum. However, the concept of using clean hydrogen fuel generated from water via electrolysis is nothing new. Because of numerous challenges, previously hydrogen has never managed to become a mainstream industrial or automotive fuel. A decade ago, an attempt to introduce hydrogen for mobility failed miserably and for good reasons. Back then, the fuelcell technology, which efficiently converts hydrogen and atmospheric oxygen into electricity, was not as advanced as it is today. In addition, the fuel cell prototypes were bulky and expensive.
After the first failed wave of hydrogen-based economy implementation followed by another ten years of development, hydrogen is back, and it seems that this time it is here to stay. The decade of research allowed for improvements in materials, components, and performance of entire fuel cell systems. In addition, new manufacturing tools and techniques have been developed to reduce system costs. Today’s fuel cell systems use a fraction of platinum catalysts compared to fuel cells ten years ago, yet their performance is superior. A number of new fuel cell electric vehicles have emerged, and hydrogen refueling infrastructure is being built globally. However, even today due to lack of economies of scale and demand, hydrogen generation and fuel cells are still costly and cannot compete with fossil fuel-based solutions. While hydrogen can be a viable tool in combating climate change and air pollution, today hydrogen hardly makes a business case. Many of these hydrogen infrastructure developments are fuelled by governmental subsidies and fear of carbon tax.
This SAE EDGE Research Report discusses the unsettled economic aspects of hydrogen and fuelcell applications in the automotive industry. Based on the input of expert contributors, detailed economic evaluation is made in terms of fuel cell systems, fuel cell electric vehicles, and hydrogen refueling infrastructure. This report also evaluates a number of sources and forecasts potential market growth and expansion. Based on techno-economic evaluations performed in this report, it becomes clear that economy of scale is essential in reducing the technology costs. There is also a clear role that governments must play to enable and facilitate this transition by providing incentives and subsidies. It is also believed, that carbon tax will be a viable tool in enabling the cost-competitiveness of the hydrogen economy. Finally, the report concludes with a series of recommendations aimed at governmental and industry stakeholders to consider in order to facilitate a smooth transition from fossil fuel-based to hydrogen-based mobility.
NOTE: SAE EDGE™ Research Reports are intended to identify and illuminate critical issues in emerging, but still unsettled, technologies of interest to the mobility industry. The goal of SAE EDGE™ Research Reports is to stimulate discussion and work in the hope of promoting and speeding resolution of identified issues. SAE EDGE™ Research Reports are not intended to resolve the issues they identify or close any topic to further scrutiny.

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