UK risks falling behind on fuel cells and batteries


The UK risks lagging behind other countries unless substantially more government investment in gigafactories and fuel cell technology is forthcoming, a report has warned.

Decarbonising the Economy: The Role of Batteries and Fuel Cells, published by the Institute for Prosperity, set out that the UK government has invested significantly less in fuel cells compared to batteries, despite the role fuel cells are set to play in “greening the grid”. Its level of investment is also substantially below international counterparts, such as Germany, which has targeted £9bn of support for developing a hydrogen economy, whereas the UK has only pledged £250mn to fuel cells.

Failure to ramp up investment in fuel cells will mean the UK lacks both the capacity for generating hydrogen, as well as the infrastructure for its transport and storage in comparison to other major economies.

It highlighted how the obstacles a successful fuel cell strategy has to overcome are far greater than those affecting batteries. Battery powered vehicles, for example, can be recharged from power points already attached to the existing electrical supply network, with no need to adapt the grid to meet extra demand until these vehicles become numerous. Fuel cell vehicles, by comparison, demand completely new infrastructure to supply them.

Bus and freight depots is where this is expected to arrive at first, before refuelling is provided in the forecourts of petrol stations at a later stage, which will have largely been converted for the recharging of battery powered vehicles by then. The amount of hydrogen set to be available is also a cause for concern. It noted that by 2030, the UK’s low carbon hydrogen production capacity should reach 5GW, which is just a “small fraction” of the current generating capacity of the UK’s electricity sector – 75.8GW.