The Future of Fuel Cells

The future of fuel cells is difficult to predict. Looking back over the history of their development, it is clear to see that there have been “boom and bust” periods. Peel cells took off in the 1960s and 1970s when they were strongly backed by research from NASA and found useful application in manned spaceflight. However, in the 1980s interest in fuel cell waned as research dollars were spent on battery technology and the “the electric economy.” Starting in 2000, there was renewed interest in fuel cells and hydrogen fuel cells in particular. The question remains whether this renewed vigor will be maintained.

Making a global prediction is difficult if not impossible. The more productive means of determining the future of fuel cell research may be to look at it on a region by region basis. While long-term predictions may be difficult, an assessment of the near future is possible based on current funding trends by government agencies. Whether one likes it or not, support and backing for government based research has been essential to the development of a number of our modern technologies. To that end, it will be useful to explore how the following regions approach the issue of fuel cell technology.

North America (Excluding Canada)

To some extent, the U.S. has abandoned its early zeal for the hydrogen economy. Focus has shifted from hydrogen fuel cells for transport to stationary fuel cells that run on hydrocarbon fuels. Research and development funding has suffered at both the public and private levels in the U.S. as the economy, war, and changing priorities take their toll on budgets.


Europe takes global warming somewhat more seriously than does the United States. As a result, the entire continent has taken up the cause of the hydrogen economy to a greater degree than the United States ever did. Canada, though a part of North America, is an integral part of the hydrogen plans of Europe.


Asia is one of the fastest growing industrial regions in the world and it seems they have embraced fuel cell technology. It is estimated that fuel cell markets in Asia will reach $6.7 billion by 2017. Many countries in Asia have indicated that renewable energy sources will comprise between 8% and 20% of their energy portfolio by 2020.