Carbon Trust launches UK challenge for cost reduction breakthrough in polymer fuel cells

The Carbon Trust is launching the ‘Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge’ in the UK, an £8 million (US$12.7 million) initiative to accelerate the commercialization of breakthrough technologies to bring about the cost-effective, mass production of fuel cell cars and buses, as well as providing electricity and heat in homes and businesses.

The Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge aims to deliver the critical reduction in PEM fuel cell system costs that must be achieved to make mass market deployment a reality. New Carbon Trust analysis shows that if substantial cuts can be achieved, the global market could be worth more than US$26 billion in 2020, with the UK share of this market worth $1bn.

‘Fuel cells have been 10 years away from a real breakthrough for the past 20 years,’ says Dr Robert Trezona, head of R&D at the Carbon Trust. ‘This is a critical moment for UK fuel cell technology, as emerging markets combine with technology cost breakthroughs to create a golden opportunity to launch world-beating products onto a massive global market.’

Current polymer fuel cell system costs are still too high by a factor of at least 10 for widespread use. These costs could be brought down in the future through volume production, but projections show that even then, with today’s technology, costs would remain too high by 30–40% for most markets. The Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge aims to support those breakthroughs that will allow high-volume costs to come down by 35%, making fuel cell systems attractive for mass markets.

The Polymer Fuel Cell Challenge will be split into two phases. A newly opened call for proposals will lead to the selection of up to three novel ideas, which will be offered up to £1m ($1.6m) per project to further develop and prove. If one of these demonstrates its potential for lower-cost fuel cell systems, the Carbon Trust will then co-invest up to £5m ($8m) in the technology to develop it commercially.

The Carbon Trust and the Technology Strategy Board have been coordinating support for fuel cell and hydrogen technology in the UK since 2007. The Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge and the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Demonstration Programme, announced by the Technology Strategy Board earlier this month, are complementary initiatives supporting, respectively, research on next-generation technologies and the demonstration of currently available systems.

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