This timely research discusses how developing countries can factor in competing arguments about the impending arrival of practical hydrogen fuel cell technology as they explore options for future policies.
Since the mid-1990s, the emergence of a hydrogen economy and the speed of its arrival have been vigorously debated. The debate has mainly been among policymakers and industrial or energy firms in the developed nations. Their policies, along with the technological competencies and competitive practices of related industries, have played a central role in shaping both the debate and the direction of technological change.
For developing countries the current debate highlights the uncertainties involved in making choices about hydrogen and fuel cells in transportation planning. Whether a hydrogen-based transportation system becomes viable sooner (by 2020) or later (2050 or beyond) is a key issue in their attempts to plan national energy, environment, and transportation policies.
There are still many significant problems to solve. Dominant designs for the production, storage, and distribution of hydrogen have not been established, and the performance of today’s hydrogen proton exchange-membrane fuel cells is not competitive with that of the combustion engine. However, costs are coming down, and the efficiency and durability of hydrogen fuel cells are improving.
Lynn K. Mytelka is a Professorial Fellow at UNU-MERIT in Maastricht, where she is Director of the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Project, and a Distinguished Research Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She formerly served as Director of UNU-INTECH.
Grant Boyle conducted policy research on energy and the environment at UNU-IAS in Yokohama, Japan, before serving as Associate Project Coordinator of the UNU Hydrogen Fuel Cell Project from 2004 through 2006. He is currently completing a law degree at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada.