A Bullish Assessment of Our Fuel-Cell Future

Business, Featured  /   /  By Jim Motavalli

“Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, with a zero-emission capability, represent the future of the automobile,” said Naqi Jaffery, lead author of a new report from the Washington-based market research company Information Trends.

The report, Global Market for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles, makes a very optimistic projection about deployment. By 2020, it says, refueling networks will be well established in several key places—California, Germany, Korea and Japan included. By 2032, annual vehicle sales will reach five million, and 20 million will have been sold, generating as much as $1.2 trillion.

A second company report, Global Market for Hydrogen Filling Stations, offers an assessment of the infrastructure needed to drive sales. By 2050, Jaffrey said fuel cells will be the “fastest growing segment of the auto market.” The report estimates fuel-cell vehicles will eventually overtake their battery equivalents because of longer range and faster refueling times.

Navigant Research is also bullish, stating in 2013 that worldwide sales would reach two million by 2030. It cited western Europe as a particular hydrogen hub.

Refueling in Copenhagen

Building the refueling networks (as here in Copenhagen) is key to mass deployment, analysts say. Germany is a leader, along with Japan, the U.S. and Korea. (Hydrogen Link Denmark/Flickr)

Other projections are more modest. Lux Research, in a 2013 report called The Great Compression: the Future of the Hydrogen Economy, said that fuel cell vehicles (including forklifts) will be a $1.8 billion market in 2030, with 63,000 sales globally. That projection assumes a $6 per kilogram sales price at the pump. Lux also said that 304 fuel cell buses could be sold in 2030.

And California’s Air Resources Board estimates (via surveys of automakers) sales of 18,500 in the state by 2020, and 34,300 by 2021. Obviously, carmakers imagine a wider market as more models are released and the fueling infrastructure grows. But it’s basically guesswork, since the battery electric vehicle will not remain stagnant—the forthcoming Chevrolet Bolt, for instance, has an EPA-certified range of 238 miles, and is capable of  20-minute recharges. Hydrogen cars need to maintain their range and refueling advantage.

Information Trends is confident that this will happen, beginning with “fleets and high-end customers.” It says that the U.S, will initially be the market leader, but Asia-Pacific will soon experience the most growth. “Japan is the most bullish on this technology,” Information Trends said, adding that the Japanese government is envisioning a “hydrogen society” that includes the use of fuel cells to power buildings.

Deployment of hydrogen vehicles is well underway worldwide, and the next few years are critical for the technology to gain momentum and develop into formidable competition for both internal combustion and battery electrics.


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