IDTechEx Research has assessed the market potential of electric vehicles (EV) in a new report, Fuel Cell Vehicles 2019-2029.

The 530-page technical report has analysed nine different electric vehicle (EV) categories on land, sea and air. It contains information on the main research and development efforts being carried out worldwide, challenges and unexplored market opportunities.

The report finds that fuel cells can be a complementary technology in all those EV applications where batteries are too costly, too slow or just not the right fit in what will be a multi-billion dollar market by 2029.

Fuel cells are commercially successful in stationary applications but commercially unsuccessful in vehicles, beyond a few thousand purchased for material handling vehicles, notably forklifts.

Fuel cell buses and cars are still outsold by a factor of about 100 by pure electric buses and cars. Fuel cells in off-road vehicles, marine and aircraft applications have performed quite well but are not yet adopted in volume.

But in recent years a renewed interest in this technology has prompted many companies to develop and market new fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), in the hope that hydrogen fuel can change the industry.

Toyota and Hyundai are now selling their H2-powered passenger cars while Japan plans to use the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to showcase its expertise in the hydrogen economy, with 35 hydrogen refuelling stations scheduled to open before the start of the Games.

European firms like Alstom believe diesel trains can be replaced by H2-powered ones, with hydrogen a more cost-effective alternative to the expensive conventional rail infrastructure. Hydrogen-powered trains are also being trialled in Germany.

The trucking industry is also longing for carbon dioxide-free alternatives to diesel engines, which are prone to failure and expensive in fuel. Charging a 1 MWh lithium-ion battery pack can take several hours and charging infrastructure may not be equipped to provide hundreds of kW at the same time to a convoy of electric lorries. For this reason, companies like Nikola have already collected over 7000 pre-orders for their fuel cell-powered trucks, which are leased while the company prepares for covering the entire US soil with proprietary hydrogen-refuelling stations.

There are also joint efforts in the drone industry to switch from bulky and slow-to-charge batteries to small hydrogen tanks that can be refilled in seconds and enable longer range for commercial and military drones. Similar efforts are also underway in the marine vehicle sector, where H2 can meet shortcomings that batteries have failed to address.