A fuel cell is an electrochemical conversion device. It produces electricity from fuel (on the anode side) and an oxidant (on the cathode side), which react in the presence of an electrolyte. The reactants flow into the cell, and the reaction products flow out of it, while the electrolyte remains within it. Fuel cells can operate virtually continuously as long as the necessary flows are maintained.

Fuel cells are different from electrochemical cell batteries in that they consume reactant, which must be replenished, whereas batteries store electrical energy chemically in a closed system. Additionally, while the electrodes within a battery react and change as a battery is charged or discharged, a fuel cell’s electrodes are catalytic and relatively stable.

Many combinations of fuel and oxidant are possible. A hydrogen cell uses hydrogen as fuel and oxygen (usually from air) as oxidant. Other fuels include hydrocarbons such as gasoline, diesel, propane, butane, natural gas, and methanol, alcohols, hydrogen peroxide and others.     

Fuel cells provide portable power, as do batteries, and may be lighter, smaller and more powerful than the batteries they compete against.  Fuel cells are envisioned as a replacement for the internal combustion engine in vehicles.  A fuel cell vehicle can usually go twice the distance of an internal combustion engine powered vehicle using the same amount of fuel.  Fuel cells also compete against traditional forms of providing power to the electric grid, such as electricity from coal and natural gas power plants as well as solar and hydro power. Fuel cells create electricity at efficiencies of 50%-60%.  When a fuel cell captures its excess heat for use, the system is known as a fuel cell combined heat and power (CHP) system, and these have achieved efficiencies in the range of 80%-85%. Traditional forms of power struggle to reach efficiencies of more than 40%. When pure hydrogen is used as a fuel source, the only by-product of the electrochemical conversion is water vapor.  When hydrocarbon fuels are reformed to create hydrogen for a fuel cell, the resulting CO2 emissions are lower than traditional forms of power because of the fuel cell’s greater efficiency. 

Despite their advantages, fuel cells have failed to achieve significant shares of the markets in which they compete. That has been due to their high costs and questionable durability. A fuel cell providing power to a home, business, or industrial concern must operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and operate reliably for ten years, or 40,000 hours, to be competitive against the power grid.  A fuel cell engine for a vehicle must operate reliability for 5,000 hours to compete against the internal combustion engines.  Nanotechnology is providing fuel cell manufacturers with the technology needed to make fuel cells more durable and cost competitive with traditional power sources. 

Over the past few years, fuel cells have demonstrated increased reliability and lower costs thanks to the incorporation of nanomaterials.   Nanomaterials are also increasingly used in the production, purification and storage of hydrogen for use with fuel cells.  For the first time, manufacturers have stated their intentions to begin manufacturing tens of thousands of fuel cell systems per year per manufacturer in 2009, 2010 and beyond, with the promise of moving to hundreds of thousands of units by 2015.  Prior to 2009, individual manufacturers were producing less than 4,000 units a year at the most. 

Fuel cells and hydrogen energy compete in markets that are collectively worth more than a trillion dollars annually.

Study goal and objectives

This study focuses on fuel cell systems, hydrogen energy producers and enabling nanotechnology. The study provides market data about the size and growth of application segments, industry trends, new developments, including a detailed patent analysis, and company profiles. Another goal of this report is to provide a detailed and comprehensive multi-client study of the market in North America, Europe, Japan, China, India, Korea and the rest of the world for fuel cells, hydrogen energy and related nanotechnology, and potential growth opportunities in the future.

The objectives include a thorough coverage of the underlying economic issues driving the fuel cell and hydrogen energy industries, as well as assessments of improved fuel cell materials that are being developed. Another important objective is to provide realistic market data and forecasts for fuel cells, hydrogen energy and related nanotechnology. This study provides the most thorough and up-to-date assessment that can be found anywhere on this subject. The study also provides extensive quantification of the many important facets of market developments in fuel cell systems and hydrogen energy use all over the world. This, in turn, contributes to the determination of what kind of strategic response companies may adopt in order to compete in this dynamic market.

The goal of the study was to determine the current and future financial and technological state of the fuel cell and hydrogen energy industries and the influence of related nanotechnologies. One of the objectives was to determine how many organizations in each nation were involved in what type of fuel cells or hydrogen energy technology.  The study provides a review of the activities of more than 3,800 organizations developing fuel cells, hydrogen energy and related nanotechnology.


Fuel cells fueled by hydrogen are a breakthrough technology that can replace traditional power sources such as batteries and the electric power grid as well as the internal combustion engine . In addition to offering performance advantages over existing technologies, fuel cells are typically smaller and use much less fuel that competing technologies.  Governments across the world are providing more than $4 billion dollars in research funding annually to further fuel cell and hydrogen energy development.  Hydrogen is seen as a replacement fuel for hydrocarbon fuels based on oil and natural gas production, and it is expected to become the power source of the future, doing for distributed power production what the personal computer did for distributed computing, allowing users to free themselves from mainframe computers.  As such, fuel cells are expected to become as ubiquitous as batteries.

Because they are seen as a key future power source, fuel cell manufacturing is expected to create millions of jobs worldwide over the next ten years, and governments are competing to secure these jobs for their people. While the U.S. leads the world in fuel cell manufacturing, Japan is developing significant fuel cell manufacturing capability.  

Fuel cell systems and hydrogen energy are truly disruptive technologies that can enable significant reductions in fuel costs and CO2 and other pollutant emissions.  Japanese users of fuel cell combined heat and power systems are experiencing a 15% reduction in energy costs, even when the cost of leasing a fuel cell is factored into the equation.  Fuel cells have also proven to be more economical than lead acid batteries in critical uninterruptible power applications, such as for wireless telecom stations and data centers. Fuel cells are also more economical than batteries used to power materials handling vehicles, an application that is seeing growth rates in excess of 100% annually. 

Fuel cells are also emerging from a period of demonstrations where they have operated reliably for 5 to 10 years with decreased use of expensive materials such as platinum, proving that they are ready to seriously compete against traditional forms of power.

With this background of enabling nanotechnologies, improved fuel cell durability and lower costs, and increased fuel cell manufacturing with associated increases in hydrogen production, we felt a need to conduct a detailed study including current and emerging technologies, new developments and market opportunities. The report identifies and evaluates fuel cell systems and hydrogen production technologies which show potential growth and their associated nanotechnology.

Contributions of the study

While fuel cells are expected to become a common method of producing electricity over the next 50 years, their ascent into the market place is just beginning.  The industry is highly fragmented, and many of the technological improvements are occurring in university and government laboratories which often are spun-out into new start-up businesses. The start-up companies seek venture financing or partnerships with established well-financed corporations in order to advance their technologies and manufacturing capabilities.  The study gathers, for the first time, a comprehensive review of worldwide efforts to advance fuel cell and hydrogen energy technologies, especially with regard to enabling nanotechnologies and nanomaterials, by examining the efforts of more than 3,800 organizations. 

Going forward, fuel cells and hydrogen energy and enabling nanotechnology and material will provide the fuel cell market with higher power,  greater durability and reliability as well as lower cost, while maintaining the fuel saving and associated cost benefits along with lower pollution and the possibility of augmenting income through the use of carbon off-set credits. 

This study also provides the most complete accounting of fuel cell and hydrogen enegy growth in North America, Europe, Japan, and the rest of the world currently available in a multi-client format. The markets have also been estimated according to the type of fuel cell chemistry used, such as proton exchange fuel cells, direct methanol fuel cells, solid oxide fuel cells, molten carbonate fuel cells, and other types of fuel cells.  It also examines the markets for fuel cells and hydrogen energy in portable power, stationary and vehicle applications.  Further, it provides insights into the nanotechnologies and nanomaterials used in fuel cell fabrication and hydrogen production.  The study also provides extensive quantification of the many important facets of market developments in the emerging markets for fuel cells ranging from less than one watt to multiple megawatts.


“Fuel Cells, Hydrogen Energy and Related Nanotechnology” examines proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), their state of development, their costs, the markets for the fuel cells and the markets for nanotechnologies for proton exchange membrane fuel cells.

This study also focuses on direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs), their state of development, their costs, the markets for the fuel cells, nanotechnologies for this type of fuel cell and the market for nanotechnologies for direct methanol fuel cells.

This report details solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), their state of development, their costs, the markets for the fuel cells and for nanotechnologies for solid oxide fuel cells. Phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFCs) and molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs), their manufacturers and the state of the art of those technologies, as well as their markets, are also studied in detail. 

Also examined are hydrogen production, purification and storage technologies associated with fuel cells, the state of development, the costs, and the markets by hydrogen production and storage. The report also examines nanotechnology for hydrogen production and storage as well as the market for nanotechnology for hydrogen production and storage.

The materials, manufacturing methods and machinery used in producing nano-materials for fuel cells as well as hydrogen production and storage are reported on in great detail, as well as their application to each of the various fuel cell chemistries.

Tables ordered by nation offer a brief look at the activities of each of the 3,800 organizations in the report.  The activities of all major industrial nations are reviewed. 

The report also looks at the production, availability and costs of key raw materials for each of the fuel cell chemistries.  Profiles of more than 800 of the 3,800 companies and organizations are offered in a companion directory entitled “Fuel Cells, Hydrogen Energy and Related Nanotechnology Directory.” 


The research methodology was qualitative in nature and employed a triangulative approach, which aids validity. Initially, a comprehensive and exhaustive search of the literature on fuel cells, hydrogen and related nanotechnology was conducted. These secondary sources included journals and related books, trade literature, marketing literature, other product/promotional literature, annual reports, government reports, and other publications. A patent search and analysis was also conducted.

In a second phase, semi-structured fact-finding email correspondence was conducted with marketing executives, product sales engineers, international sales managers, application engineers, and other personnel of fuel cell, hydrogen producer and nanotechnology companies. Other sources included corporate and government conference presentations published by organizations in the U.S. and Europe and Asia. Information was also garnered from academics, technology suppliers, technical experts, trade association officials, government officials, and consulting companies. These were a rich source of data. Subsequent analysis of the documents and interview notes was iterative.

The final process included techniques such as preliminary research, fill-gap research, historical analysis of end-user markets and supply chain/raw materials, data consolidation, cross linking, variance determination projections, variance factorization and confirmatory primary research.


Initially, a comprehensive and exhaustive search of the literature on fuel cells, hydrogen as an energy source, and related nanotechnology was conducted. Sources included the latest press releases on company Websites, including application news, company news, marketing news, product news, brochures, product literature, and fuel cell and hydrogen magazines, and technical journals, as well as technical books, marketing literature, other promotional literature, annual reports, security analyst reports, and other business publications from fuel cell, hydrogen production and nanotechnology industries. 

For this report, there exists little market data in the available literature that analyzes the fuel cell industry as a whole industry. Even with the data that do exist, for the most part, the challenge was to identify the fuel cell market and its use of hydrogen as a fuel accurately, and evaluate how it fits in areas such portable power where fuel cells compete against batteries, or stationary power where fuel cells compete against the power grid, and in vehicle markets where fuel cells provide motive power for buses, cars and materials handling vehicles and hydrogen, as a fuel competes with gasoline, diesel, coal, natural gas and battery power.  Government research spending for fuel cells and hydrogen as an energy source accounts for nearly half the spending in the $8.4 billion a year industry.

The second phase involved formal and informal telephone interviews/email correspondence with personnel in the fuel cell industry as well as hydrogen producers and nanotechnology companies. Suppliers, design engineers, consulting companies, other technical experts, government officials, and trade association officials were also interviewed, as well as the personnel using fuel cells powered by hydrogen.

By employing these information sources and using various forms of primary information gathering techniques, all results could be cross-correlated and tested for reasonableness. In addition, the thorough and appropriate use of statistical analysis techniques insured that the conclusions drawn from this report accurately represent the surveyed markets. The author of this report believes that this combination of thorough and detailed data gathering, together with the use of sophisticated statistical analysis, has yielded a high degree of accuracy.

Other sources of information include United Nations, U.S., European, Canadian, Chinese, Japanese, Australian, Brazilian and Indian government reports, studies, research abstracts and status reports, press releases, conference presentations, telephone  and email communication.  Corporate information includes annual reports, quarterly reports, press releases, information from corporate Websites, corporate presentations to analysts, conference presentations, and published speeches by corporate executives as well as telephone and email communications, including foreign language translations of public information.  The report also includes information from television reports and the print media.  Most information was published between January 2006 and January 2009. 


Fuel cells are positioned to become a preferred solution for many types of consumer, commercial and industrial power applications. 

This study provides a technical overview of the fuel cell, hydrogen energy and related nanotechnology industries, especially recent technology developments and existing barriers. Therefore, audiences for this study include marketing executives, business unit managers and other decision makers in companies producing fuel cells, hydrogen energy and nanotechnology for these applications.  The audience includes government, private and public entities that are considering building new power production plants, or commercial or industrial facilities which could include their own power sources and result in considerable energy savings.   The study also provides direction to companies that may wish to take part in more than $4 billion in annual government spending across the world to advance the cause of fuel cells and hydrogen energy.  Hundreds of millions of dollars in grants are awarded each year in the U.S. and abroad to small companies with innovative solutions to fuel cell development and hydrogen energy production. 

U.S. home and office builders should benefit from the experience of utilities in Europe and Japan who have been more active in the residential market for fuel cell combined heat and power for a while.  Local government authorities should benefit by adopting regulations that will spur the adoption of fuel cell power, which will result in energy savings, lower pollution and possibly new and higher paying jobs.  Ohio, California, New York and Connecticut are examples of four states that have adopted policies and regulations that will significantly hasten the adoption of fuel cell power in those states.  

Fuel cell manufacturers may discover new partners and technologies recently introduced.  Venture capital companies will be aided in discovering the latest improvement to fuel cell manufacturing and hydrogen production aided and enabled by nanotechnology.


The lure of fuel cells is the promise to be one of the most ubiquitous products of the 21st century. Fuel cells can compete with batteries, the internal combustion engine and the power grid. Hydrogen can compete with any fuel now produced and cause no pollution, but its price is higher than gasoline or natural gas because it is difficult to transport and store. Nanotechnologies will provide the technological keys that enable fuel cells and hydrogen as a fuel to become competitive and commonplace.

The fuel cell and hydrogen energy industry is highly fragmented. The study identified most of these companies, research institutions and universities.

Major findings of this report are:

  • The study identified 3,870 organizations involved in fuel cells, hydrogen energy and related nanotechnology and spent an estimated $8.4 billion in 2008.
  • More than 2,180 organizations are involved in nanotechnology related to fuel cells and hydrogen energy and will spend a total of $4.7 billion for fuel cells and hydrogen energy incorporating nanotechnology.
  • Another 1,690 organizations (44%) are involved with fuel cells and hydrogen energy but not related nanotechnology. They are involved with valves, piping, power electronics, pumps, compressors, fans and other fuel cell system parts.
  • Of the $4.7 billion, about $2 billion in 2008 expenditures, or 24% of the total spending, represents the value of nanotechnology for fuel cells and hydrogen energy separate from all other expenditures.
  • The organizations are made up of well established corporations, start-up companies, universities, governments at the federal, state and municipal level, cooperative public/private demonstrations, as well as non-profit organizations and laboratories.
  • Those organizations involved in nanotechnology are developing electrodes, catalysts, and membranes, as well as nano coatings, thermal and filtration products for fuel cells and materials for hydrogen production, purification and storage.
  • More than half the organizations involved in fuel cells, hydrogen energy and related nanotechnology have overlapping interests and are developing more than one kind of fuel cell or technology for more than one type of fuel cell. 
  • Significant gaps still exists in the manufacturing processes for membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs), the heart of fuel cells, for proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) and solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). 
  • Nanotechnologies have been proven to substantially improve the performance and durability of PEMFCs, DMFCs and SOFCs, and to a more limited extent molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs) and phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFCs).
  • Nanotechnologies offer a potential avenue for safe, solid storage of hydrogen for vehicles as well as methods of producing and purifying hydrogen from hydrocarbon fuels for use in fuel cells or via electrolysis of water or ammonia. 



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Report No: EN-103       Published: June 2009   773 pages  

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