International Institute of Applied Research and Technology

Hydrogen and Fuel Cells

What is H2&Fuel cells?

Hydrogen and fuel cell technologies are key enabling technologies for a competitive low carbon society and directly address the societal challenges identified in the EU 2020 Strategy. Hydrogen (H2S) is an energy carrier that can store and deliver energy in widely useable forms. In addition to the well-established market for hydrogen as a feedstock for the chemical industry, the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier is gaining importance in energy and transport applications.

Hydrogen as a fuel or energy storage medium is attracting interest due to its potential to increase energy security and sustainability of the energy supply chain and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen can be produced without carbon footprint using non-fossil energy sources or from fossil energy sources combined with CO2 sequestration. Hydrogen can be burned in gas turbines and combustion engines or to be used in fuel cell systems, reacting with oxygen in an electrochemical process where electricity and water are produced.

Power generation from fuel cells in transport and stationary applications is one of the most relevant and investigated aspects of the hydrogen energy chain. Fuel cells can also provide power from a range of other fuels, besides hydrogen, including natural gas and biogas. Because there are no moving parts, fuel cells are quiet, with potentially low/reduced maintenance and are considered to be the most efficient means of converting a fuel into useful power. They can be used for small or large-scale power applications, including generating electricity for industry, providing back-up or auxiliary power, providing uninterruptible power supply, powering vehicles and forklift trucks, as well as for portable applications, such as laptops, toys and cell phones. A number of technical and economic challenges remain, however, before hydrogen for fuel cells can be exploited in the same way as conventional fuels. [FCH JU 2011], [New Energy World IG 2011].

Further information on wind energy can be found at the Strategic Energy Technologies Information System (SETIS): Fuel Cells and Hydrogen.

Production: Hydrogen can be produced from a large variety of feedstock by many processes (reforming, electrolysis…). Renewable or green hydrogen can be produced with electrolysers if the electric energy is provided by a renewable energy source, or from biomass by a variety of methods, such as gasification or fermentation.

Storage and distribution: The storage and distribution of hydrogen is challenging due to its low volumetric energy density. In order to increase the density, hydrogen is liquefied or compressed. Tube trailers and pipelines can be used for the transport of gaseous hydrogen. Liquid hydrogen can be distributed by insulated road tankers.

Fuel cells: Fuel cells can replace batteries, combustion engines and thermal power generation systems, with applications ranging from providing portable power to electricity and heat production in large co-generation power plants. The waste heat of fuel cells can be utilized to provide both residential heating and hot water or can be used for distributed heating for larger units.

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) have zero tailpipe emissions. However, the deployment of FCEVs will require an extensive fuelling infrastructure calling for large scale investments.

What are the barriers and needs of?

Following table shows the challenges and actions to be addressed for the main hydrogen technologies.

Table 1. Challenges & needs faced by hydrogen technologies. [FCH JU 2011]
Topic Challenges/Obstacles Actions
Hydrogen production Increase of efficiency of production of hydrogen from water electrolysis and renewable sources
Improvement of reliability of large green hydrogen production systems from renewable energy power
Reduction of capital and operating costs
Research on new materials to increase durability
Improvement of system flexibility
Hydrogen support for RES integration in the energy system Demonstration on large scale the feasibility of using hydrogen to support integration of renewable sources into the energy system. Integrated projects
Storage Cost reduction and increase of safety for hydrogen storage medium of renewable electricity, for grid services and long term energy storage Research on materials and microbial activity in porous rock for underground storage
Fuel cell systems in transport Increase of lifetime
Reduction of production cost
Research on new materials to increase durability
Large scale production volumes
Hydrogen refuelling stations Reduction of capital and operational cost of hydrogen refuelling stations (HRS) to reach the highest international levels in terms of modularity, refuelling time, reliability, safety and availability. It is also necessary to complete standardisation work for HRS. Pre-normative research on purity of the hydrogen delivered by the HRS, the accuracy of the measurement of the amount of hydrogen dispensed to the FCEVs and its temperature level
Fuel cells in CHP Increase electrical efficiency and durability
Cost reduction
Improvement of system integration and research on new materials
Large scale production
Raw materials Reduction of the EU defined "Critical raw materials", that will lead to cheaper and more sustainable hydrogen technologies Research on reduction of precious metal content, especially in PEM technologies (fuel cells and electrolysers)

What are industry and the EU doing about?

The European Commission has supported research and development in fuel cells and hydrogen technologies since the early EU Framework Programmes (FP) with increasing funding levels over time (e.g. EUR 145 million in FP5, EUR 315 million in FP6). In the absence of a clear European strategy, these efforts were fragmented and uncoordinated across the different FP sub-programmes. Therefore, in order to substantially accelerate the development and market introduction of hydrogen technologies, a hydrogen and fuel cell public-private partnership was proposed in the FP7.

The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) is a public-private partnership. Its aim is to accelerate the market introduction of fuel cell and hydrogen energy technologies in Europe, through its support in research, technological development and demonstration (RTD) activities related with these technologies. The three members of the FCH JU are the European Commission, fuel cell and hydrogen industries represented by the NEW Industry Grouping and the research community represented by Research Grouping N.ERGHY. Under the EU framework program Horizon 2020 (2014-2020), FCH JU will have a budget of EUR 1.3 billion. 50% of this budget is covered by EC meanwhile the other 50% is supplied by industry and research partners.

Apart from FCH JU there are more EU funding opportunities for projects related with hydrogen technologies. At national level, the largest funding organisation is the German NOW GmbH, which has been coordinating projects on transport and energy applications through the national innovation project (NIP) with a grant budget of around EUR 700 million. The NIP has been supporting the Clean Energy Partnership since 2006 to accelerate the market introduction of FCEV through infrastructure rollout and vehicle demonstration projects. Projects are also on-going in the energy and hydrogen production areas. There are other national support schemes in Europe, for example in France or in Scandinavian countries. [FCH JU 2014], [NOW]

What is the current and future potential place of H2&Fuel cells in the energy system?

The European scenario of stationary fuel cells for distributed generation has grown increasingly rich and diverse in terms of the solutions for different use cases that the industry can provide. The European market for stationary fuel cells can be divided into three different market segments: residential, commercial and industrial.

Fuel cells are being used in residential for CHP (Combined Heat and Power) applications, where the fuel cell provides electricity and heating to a residential area or to a single house (µ-CHP). This technology is being extensively used in Japan, thanks to the Ene-Farm project. Europe is also supporting the introduction of fuel cells in the CHP sector through projects as Ene.field, where up to 1,000 residential fuel cells for combined heat and power (micro-CHP, 1-5 kW) installations from 8 manufacturers will be deployed across 11 key European countries. At national level, almost 500 units have been installed within the project Callux, financed with 75 M€ by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) and German private industry in promoting the use of this technology.

In terms of commercial buildings, the European fuel cell industry has not yet fully developed products in a medium power range of 5 to 400 kWel. European products are predominantly in the R&D and prototype phase (especially below 100 kWel); some begin field tests.

In terms of industrial applications for prime power or CHP beyond 400 kWel, the readiness of the European fuel cell industry is mixed; some players are already bringing products to the market, with support of global know-how especially from the US.

Stationary fuel cells are also currently used in uninterrupted power systems (UPS) as a primary power or as a back-up, especially for remote off-grid telecom sites.

Vehicle manufacturers have formed alliances in order to prepare common technological platforms for their FCEVs. Although in general FCEVs are in a pre-commercial and prototype stage, some OEMs now offer FCEVs to the market in small batches on a commercial basis. Initial markets include Japan, Korea, California, Germany and Scandinavia, with other regions being targeted at later stages, depending on infrastructure roll-out.

Various initiatives, such as the German H2 Mobility and H2MobilityUK have been established to help support the build-up of the necessary hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. In Europe, Germany is leader in hydrogen refuelling station deployment, with plans to implement 400 stations within the next decade. In California, the California Fuel Cell Partnership is supporting the construction of up to 60 fuelling stations by 2017. Around 15 stations are set to be operational in Scandinavia by 2015, to be complemented by 30 smaller satellite stations. Hydrogen Mobility Europe (H2ME), has been launched by a large coalition of European partners. It is the largest European project of this nature and is based around an alliance of four hydrogen mobility initiatives in Europe, bringing together the key stakeholders in the hydrogen sector to study and develop strategies to make hydrogen-fuelled transport a reality in the respective regions.

Despite the limited deployment of hydrogen technologies in the current energy system, it is expected that their presence will increase. One of the main drivers will be the reduction of GHG emissions leading to an increase of the share of renewable energies sources (RES) in the energy mix. This increased share will bring problems for the grid in terms of balancing energy supply and demand. In this scenario, hydrogen can play an important role in the periods where there is a surplus of energy, due to a high production from RES and/or low energy demand. Water electrolysers can produce hydrogen from excess or low-cost electricity, either connected to the grid or even in off-grid installations (such as islands or wind parks or solar). Large scale and longer term storage of energy is then possible by storing hydrogen in salt caverns or other suitable geological formations. Hydrogen can then be either used directly as a chemical feedstock, as a fuel for transport, be fed into the natural gas grid, or be converted back to electricity during periods of large demands. Although power to power storage may not prove economically viable, the hydrogen can be provided to different markets, such as FCEV and chemical industry, rather than being reconverted into electricity. [Fuel Cells 2000], [Ene.field], [Fuel Cell Today 2012].

Who is/should be involved in?

In order to enable clean public transport (for example through hydrogen buses), regional and metropolitan authorities are taking part in the many on-going demonstration projects. Other stakeholders include public transport service providers.

For low emission power generation applications such as back-up power or CHP public bodies involved in innovation, industry and cluster policies as well as enterprises could get involved.

Regions with grid balancing needs due to the integration of variable RES could benefit though the conversion of excess electricity to hydrogen, which could then be used for transport and energy purposes. Off-grid or weak grid areas such as islands and isolated territories are other regions which have shown strong interest in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

The challenge of renewable energy storage can be addressed with hydrogen technologies in areas with a potential surplus of electricity. These activities should involve research, innovation, industry and civil society stakeholders.

A general aim of the FCH 2 JU is to develop and deploy replicable, balanced and integrated fuel cell and hydrogen solutions in both energy and transport fields through strong partnerships between municipalities, industries and academia in European isolated territories disconnected to the main or national electrical grid.

Regions where hydrogen is already produced, distributed and used today could also have a strong interest in H2 and fuel cell projects. If a hydrogen pipeline is available in a region, synergies with clean transport projects could be exploited. By-product hydrogen could be converted to electricity and heat with highly efficient fuel cells. For example, in the Antwerp region by-product hydrogen will feed a refuelling station for fuel cell busses. There are existing hydrogen pipelines supplying industry in the area of Bitterfeld Rhein-Ruhr and areas in Germany as well as an extensive network in the Benelux. The major hydrogen consuming industries are refineries and ammonia producers. In Europe, ammonia is being produced in large scale in Germany, Poland, Netherlands, Romania and France. The EU is the second largest producer of petroleum products in the world after the United States, with refineries and steam crackers operated in most of the EU-28 states. [FCH JU 2014], [Fuel Cells Bulletin 2014], [FCH JU 2014].

Table below contains the regions that have shown interest on energy hydrogen applications through the S3P platform.

Table 2. List of European regions with Fuel and Hydrogen Cell Policy Priority [Eye@RIS3 2015]
Region/Country Name Description Capability Capability(Sub) Target Market Target Market (Sub)
BE Flemish Region Sustainable energy technologies with focus on hydrogen, wind energy and electrical vehicles. Part of 'Sustainable living' smart specialisation domain. Energy production & distribution Power generation/renewable sources Transporting & storage Road transport & related services
EL Dytiki Ellada Hydrogen fuel cells Manufacturing & industry Chemicals & chemical products Energy production & distribution Power generation/renewable sources
ES Aragón Energy & hydrogen Energy production & distribution Power generation/renewable sources Energy production & distribution Energy distribution
FR Franche-Comté Energy saving vehicles. Hydrogen, electric, hybrid Manufacturing & industry Motor vehicles & other transport equipment Transporting & storage Road transport & related services
FR Corse Production, distribution and management of energy in an insular environment. Production, storage and connection to the electricity grid. Energy efficiency in buildings. Energy production & distribution Power generation/renewable sources Energy production & distribution Power generation/ renewable sources

Fuel Cells research

We have now new technology for CVD growth of carbon nanotubes filled by Pt (or Ni) on stainless steel bipolar electrodes for PEM fuel cell (now 100 mm diameters with plan - up to 200 mm next 6 months).  Also we start technology research on high temperature solid oxide electrolyser (SOEC) and SOFC with forming electrolyte by plasma. Current targets - 10 kW PEMFC and 10 kW SOEC to end of year and large scale nanocatalysts production on base of carbon nanotubes (carbon SWNT) in CVD reactor.  

PEM - proton Exchange membrane
SOFC - Solid Oxide Fuel CellS
OEC - Solid Oxide Electolyser 
CVD - Chemical Vapour Deposition
SWNT - Single Wall Nano Tubes


  • [Ene.field] Ene.field: ene.field. URL: http://enefield.eu/
  • [Eye@RIS3 2015] Eye@RIS3. URL: http://s3platform.jrc.ec.europa.eu/map
  • [FCH JU 2011] FCH JU: Fuel Cells and Hydrogen, Joint Undertaking: Multi - Annual Implementation Plan
  • [FCH JU 2014] FCH JU: Annual Activity Report
  • [Fuel Cell Today 2012] Fuel Cell Today: 2012 Fuel Cell Patent Review
  • [Fuel Cells 2000] Fuel Cells 2000: Fuel Cells. URL: http://www.fuelcells.org/
  • [Fuel Cells Bulletin 2014] Fuel Cells Bulletin: Belgium gearing up for hydrogen fuel cell bus fleet in Antwerp. Fuel Cells Bulletin 2014 (3). DOI:10.1016/S1464-2859(14)70156-7
  • [New Energy World IG 2011] New Energy World IG: Fuel Cell and Hydrogen technologies in Europe. Financial and technology outlook on the European sector ambition 2014-2020
  • [NOW] NOW: NOW - National Organisation Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Technology. URL: http://www.now-gmbh.de/en.html