Fuel Cell Hydrogen Economy

Hydrogen fuel cells have been relatively neglected through insufficient support from industry and government, according to a study published today funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

“Fuel cells are a genuine ‘clean’ technology,” says study investigators, Chris Hendry of the Cass Business School, London, “But re-investment in nuclear technology is likely to squeeze out the investment necessary to make fuel cells competitive with existing energy sources and with other non-nuclear alternative energy options.”

I asked him about the true “cleanness” of fuel cells in the light of new infrastructure requirements, sourcing the requisite hydrogen and the recycling of equipment past its use by date.

“The ideal is to produce the hydrogen by electrolysis, using another renewable source,” he told Sciencebase, “Wind action in particular is intermittent – so when there’s too much generating electricity that can’t be used, it can be diverted to produce the hydrogen. Other countries can use solar for this purpose.”

But, what about sourcing that hydrogen before such technologies are fully viable?

“In the short-term, however, you’re right, the hydrogen will come from other hydrocarbons, particularly natural gas,” he adds, “This will enable fuel cells to become established using existing infrastructure, while a hydrogen infrastructure is developed.”

“In the end, the question is, which energy source has the most efficient
‘well-to-wheels’ costs, and which has also the least recycling costs?”

The study, co-written by Prof. Hendry, Dr. Paul Harborne, James Brown and Prof. Dinos Arcoumanis, gives a strong clue to one of the major obstacles to development by referring to fuel cell technology as a disruptive innovation. A disruptive innovation, if successful, eventually overturns the existing product on the market. Recent examples include the digital camera and the compact disc. Disruptive innovations are radically different from the existing dominant technology and to begin with they are often not as good. The result is two-fold. First the proponents of existing technology are likely to fear and so resist the new development. Second, because profits are unlikely to be immediate, funding can be problematic.

The automotive industry and stationary power provide examples of fuel cells as a disruptive innovation. However, while their potential is being pursued in the UK, Germany, North America and Japan, interviews with seventy companies in these countries show the UK fuel cell industry is lagging behind.

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4 thoughts on “Fuel Cell Hydrogen Economy

  1. Funnily enough Anthony, I thought I’d started a discussion here…not really sure about sending my readers off to your page…in some circles they’d call your comment spam.

  2. I completely agree that fuel cells are the innovative power generation technologies of the future. The benefits are there for all to see that when using hydrogen as fuel, the only by-products are water and heat. This is creating the potential for a sustainable energy future, and the promise of a hydrogen economy. Some key technical challenges need to be addressed for deployment of fuel cells, as for instance: cost and size, reliability and lifespan, system compounds and balance of plant, thermal and water related issues, and these are hopefully issues that can be remedied through proper discussion and research.

    I have started a discussion on meettheboss.com/Discussion.aspx?discussionID=294 on this very subject which has started to attract some very insightful comments, so please, come and have your say so we can work together for a greener future.

  3. I totally agree with what Jim has said. Once the government has decided to use hydrogen fuel cell cars to their advantage they will be the ones, along with the car market to rake in the cash.

  4. the govements and industries are lagging behind because they trying to figure out how make money off it; then when is decided then it will longer for them to get bigger pocket put in their pants. by this time things should in a real mess

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