A new report released by the Carbon Trust has outlined how innovative UK companies are at the forefront of achieving breakthroughs in polymer fuel cells which could address cost – the main barrier to their wide scale deployment.

The report, launched at a major Fuel Cell conference 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 kW 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 kW 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 organizations – 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.