FIGURE 3.1 ZEV panel vehicle market penetration estimates. SOURCE: Walsh et al. (2007).

further cost reductions.4 Future platinum supply is a critical issue in forward projections of fuel cell costs. Fuel cell stack life has increased to over 1,500 hours compared to the DOE/FCFP 2015 goal of 5,000 hours. Focused research on problems, together with recent advances in electrode and membrane technology, should further reduce costs and increase stack life.

Walsh et al. (2007) reports on an extensive analysis of fuel cell systems, as well as competing technologies that produce very low emission vehicles in the study called Status and Prospects for Zero Emissions Vehicle Technology: Report of the ARB Independent Expert Panel. These analysts visited 10 automotive manufacturers, reviewed proprietary information, and developed the following assessment after their visits and data gathering: “Each of the developers believes that the simultaneous requirements can be met but on different time schedules. For example, one major developer’s objective is to compete with the ‘upper’ segment of ICE vehicles in the year 2020 at volumes of 100,000 units per year. Another major developer’s assessment is that a commercially viable fuel cell system would be available in 2010, if a production rate of 500,000 units per year could be realized” (p. 8). The panel also noted: “There are large technical barriers that can be solved but there are other issues that are beyond the control of any single auto manufacturer. Widespread deployment of FCEVs will require continuous strong support from government agencies. This support must include a clear message of long term commitment to … FCEVs. These include adequate and affordable hydrogen refueling, as well as a host of sustainable financial incentives to help minimize the capitalization risks of all key stakeholders during the initial transition years. Ultimately, consumer knowledge and willingness to buy these vehicles in high volume is required” (p. 130).

Walsh et al. (2007) contained an overall estimate of market introduction time frames for the various low-emission vehicle technologies they analyzed (Figure 3.1). That ZEV expert panel’s estimate is that production of thousands per year could occur by 2009, with tens of thousands per year by 2020, and then mass commercialization by 2025, with the statement that “the panel remains cautiously optimistic for fuel cell system commercialization” (p. 130). The estimates just discussed along with presentations from auto manufacturers and information included in the other resources noted were used in developing the HFCV market penetration scenarios in the Chapter 6 analysis.

The committee concludes that the current state of fuel cell development does not yet meet all of the performance and cost requirements needed for large-scale commercial production. If the recent progress in size and weight reduction, cold-weather operation, and durability improvements can be continued over the next few years, a usable fuel cell technology may be made ready for introduction by 2015. The costs of the early fuel cells are likely to be higher than the commercial targets, but these costs can drop with continued development and large-volume manufacturing.


The stack is the heart of the fuel cell. It contains the membrane through which hydrogen passes to react with oxygen, generating electricity.

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