Decarbonisation of Global Economies; Is Net Zero Emission Achievable? The Case for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology for Innovative Futures
The global energy demand is projected to rise by almost 50% by 2050. However, if emissions remain unchecked, they are expected to double compared to preindustrial levels, resulting in a temperature increase of 4.5°C–5.7°C. To address this pressing issue, the study assesses the technical and economic obstacles involved in deploying fuel cells at scale, as they have the potential to mitigate 60% of emissions across different energy sectors. The analysis includes comparing the total cost of ownership of fuel cell technologies to incumbent technologies, evaluating their technology readiness levels and maturity based on patent landscape studies.
Through secondary research and literature review of reputable sources such as the IEA, U.S. DoE, EEA, EPA, NREL, IRENA, and governmental websites, this study establishes that fuel cells offer emission-free solutions for all energy sectors, from backup power to centralized generation and zero-emission transportation. However, despite being a mature technology, fuel cells currently face higher capital and operational costs due to limited economies of scale and infrastructure availability. Their commercial viability and readiness levels have not yet been fully achieved, with average technology readiness levels ranging from 5 to 8 across different applications, and costs approximately 5 to 10 times higher than incumbent technologies. The advantages of fuel cells, such as lower maintenance costs and longer lifespan for power generation and transportation, are not sufficient to offset their higher capital costs.
To achieve the NZE scenario, governments must prioritize decarbonizing energy sectors and establish stringent emission reduction goals. Increasing public and private investor awareness of carbon-free technologies is essential. Early adoption of emission-free technologies in public buildings and spaces can promote their use, build initiative, and contribute to economies of scale. However, fuel cells will only become cost competitive when significant economies of scale are realized. Given the evolving energy sector landscape, clients in the industry must shift their focus towards low-carbon and hydrogen market advisory solutions to remain competitive and profitable.
This article also conducts a techno-economic review of hydrogen applications in the energy sector, with a primary focus on fuel cells. The urgent need to decarbonize the energy sector, especially in power generation and transportation, requires the adoption of carbon-free technologies. By providing insights into fuel cell technologies, their applicability across different sectors, commercial viability compared to incumbent technologies, and associated technological and infrastructural challenges, this report aims to contribute to the deployment of fuel cells at scale.