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Developments in fuel cell transportation technologies

Editorial Comment

T. CAMPBELL, Managing Editor

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are seen as valuable assets to decarbonize the transportation industry. However, these vehicles require liquid hydrogen (H2) to be refilled. This can present an issue for early adopters of FCEVs due to the limited amount of H2 refueling stations (HRSs) available. To decarbonize light- and heavy-duty transportation (e.g., cars, trucks, buses, trains), drivers must feel confident that they will have access to facilities to refill their vehicles. Infrastructure such as refueling stations are a necessity if FCEVs are to achieve widespread use. 

According to Statista, the Asia-Pacific is in the lead, with 552 operational HRSs, about half of which are in China (250).1 Germany boasts the most stations in Europe at 93, and the U.S. lags at 54 operational facilities, most of which are in California. One of the reasons the Asia-Pacific is leading by such a large margin is that Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda and South Korean automaker Hyundai are three of the few automakers that manufacture H2-fueled vehicles. This lead in FCEVs and HRSs has been going on for several years. In 2021, the Asia-Pacific region had 59% of the HRSs and 67% of the FCEVs worldwide (FIG. 1).

FCEVs and HRSs by region. Source: International Energy Agency.

Fuel cell applications. The primary component of the FCEV is the fuel cell. Fuel cells use H2 and oxygen to create electricity. Fuel cells can be used in the automotive, aviation and shipping sectors; however, each sector must overcome challenges related to commercial production. The technology readiness requirement for fuel cell road vehicles is much higher than that of aviation and shipping applications. According to the International Energy Agency, fuel cells have the advantage in aviation over short distances, but for longer distances, the higher power of turbines and the greater energy density of H2-based fuels are expected to be more competitive. In shipping, the onboard storage of H2 is the main innovation concern.2H2T


1 Statista, “Number of hydrogen fueling stations for road vehicles worldwide as of 2022, by country,” online: 

2 International Energy Agency, “Hydrogen patents for a clean energy future,” January 2023, online: