Renewed Interest in Fuel-Cell Vehicles Featured Pattern: P0980 October 2016

Author: Cassandra Harris (Send us feedback.)

Various developments in business models, technological advances, and resource availability are renewing interest in the use of fuel-cell technology in vehicles.

Abstracts in this Pattern:

The commercialization of fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) is lagging behind the commercialization of electric vehicles (EVs). FCVs use hydrogen as fuel, and the fueling infrastructure that FCVs require remains a key barrier to the vehicles' commercialization. The development of hydrogen stations and consumer adoption of FCVs are locked in a catch-22 situation: Without readily available hydrogen stations, consumers are hesitant to purchase FCVs; without consumers to purchase FCVs, companies are hesitant to develop the fueling infrastructure necessary to make hydrogen stations readily available. Industrial-gas manufacturer The Linde Group (Munich, Germany) is hoping to overcome this dilemma by launching the first car-sharing program for FCVs. BeeZero (https://beezero.com/en), which is launching in Munich, Germany, could facilitate growth of the FCV market and provide incentives for the wider adoption of FCVs and hydrogen stations. Recent developments in fuel-cell technology could bypass the problem of hydrogen infrastructure altogether. In June 2016, Nissan Motor Company (Yokohama, Japan) announced that it is developing the world's first bioethanol-fuel-powered solid-oxide-fuel-cell vehicle. Ethanol is easier to integrate with existing petroleum infrastructures than is hydrogen, and the technology—which Nissan wants to commercialize by 2020—could kick-start the FCV market.

And scientists are developing novel materials to advance fuel-cell technology. Recently, researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, California), and colleagues from other institutions discovered an organic material with high proton conductivity. This discovery could lead to the development of biomimetic proton-conducting materials with improved conductivity and durability, and such materials could find use as fuel-cell membranes. In addition, uncertainty in the supply and cost of lithium and other raw materials in use in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries could ultimately drive the commercialization of FCVs. The growing portable-electronics and EV markets are increasing global demand for economical high-performance batteries. As a result, the cost of lithium carbonate in China, for instance, has tripled since mid-2015, and ongoing disputes between mining companies and the government of Chile—home to the world's largest lithium reserves—are stalling production growth of the metal.