Rupert Holmes investigates the latest hydrogen fuel cells and asks if they could provide a clean electrical power source for yachts
Nearly a decade ago there was plenty of talk about hydrogen fuel cells becoming the carbon-free future for the automotive industry, yet we rarely hear about it now. So what happened?
There are a number of reasons, including lower initial costs for battery-powered vehicles in the early part of the electric vehicle revolution, and the high cost of platinum needed as a catalyst for fuel cells, which put the brakes on their adoption.
However, there are currently huge environmental and human costs in mining the cobalt used in lithium-ion batteries – one of a number of factors that will make it difficult to scale existing technology up to several multiples of today’s level of production.
Much hope for the future is pinned on improved battery chemistry and eye-watering amounts of money are being poured into this, but any potential game-changing developments are still at the research stage and remain some way from becoming a commercial reality.
Lack of media attention, however, has not slowed the development of hydrogen power, which is widely seen as being easier to quickly scale up to many times the current level of production than battery power.
In October this year the French government, for instance, announced a €7 billion commitment to create 6.5 gigawatts of hydrogen power capability by 2030. That’s equivalent to the total output of all six gas turbine power stations commissioned in the UK in the last decade.