Skip to main content

Fuel Cell Technologies

Fuel Cell Technologies

Fuel cells—technologies that can efficiently produce electricity from a number of domestic fuels and provide power for virtually any application, from transportation to power plants—hold promise to dramatically impact the 21st century clean energy economy.

The U.S. Department of Energy is providing vouchers to small businesses for products that advance clean, efficient, reliable, and affordable power in these voucher opportunity areas:

Fuel Cells

Cost, performance, and durability are key challenges to fuel cell commercialization.

Cost: The electrocatalyst is the largest cost component of a fuel cell stack at high production volume, so much of the R&D in the Program is focused on approaches that will increase activity and utilization of platinum group metal (PGM) catalysts; approaches using PGM-free catalysts are being explored for use in the long-term.

Performance: To improve fuel cell performance, the Program focuses on:

  • Developing polymer electrolyte membranes with increased conductivity and durability at reduced cost
  • Improving membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) through integration of state-of-the-art MEA components
  • Developing transport models and validating them with experimental data.

Durability: Durability targets for transportation and stationary fuel cells are 5,000 hours and 40,000 hours, respectively, under real-life operating conditions. R&D is focused on understanding the fuel cell degradation mechanisms and developing materials and strategies that will mitigate them.

The Program does not fund R&D of solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) and would not support SBVs for SOFC projects.

Hydrogen Production and Delivery

Production: The biggest challenge to hydrogen production is high cost. For hydrogen-fueled fuel cell electric vehicles to be competitive with conventional fuels and technologies on a per-mile basis, the total untaxed, delivered, and dispensed cost of hydrogen needs to be less than $4/gge. Hydrogen production R&D includes a wide portfolio of processes (including solid oxide electrolysis cells) over a range of time frames and production scales.

Delivery: The key delivery challenges include:

  • Reducing delivery cost
  • Increasing energy efficiency of pressurization equipment
  • Maintaining hydrogen purity
  • Minimizing hydrogen leakage
  • Building a national hydrogen delivery infrastructure.

Hydrogen delivery R&D activities concentrate on developing innovative technologies and processes that can reduce hydrogen transport and fueling costs—including low-cost, high-efficiency pressurization equipment, advanced containment technology, and enabling technologies such as gas cooling systems, low-cost, high-reliability dispensers, and advanced materials and sensors.

Infrastructure technology: R&D activities aim to improve the cost, reliability, safety, and consumer experience of FCEV stations through:

  • Development and physical testing of component and systems
  • Numerical simulation
  • Development of low-cost, high-performance materials
  • Systems and station architecture design.

Hydrogen Storage

High-density hydrogen storage remains a significant challenge for transportation applications. Onboard automotive hydrogen storage systems need to meet customer expectations for range, passenger and cargo space, refueling time, and overall vehicle performance. Storage capacities of 5–13 kg of hydrogen are needed to obtain a 300-mile driving range for the full range of light-duty vehicle platforms.

Near-term: The near-term R&D pathway focuses on compressed gas storage using advanced pressure vessels made of fiber-reinforced composites, with a major emphasis on system cost reduction.

Long-term: The long-term pathway focuses on cold or cryo-compressed hydrogen storage and materials-based hydrogen storage technologies.

  • Metal hydride materials research aims to improve the volumetric and gravimetric capacities, hydrogen adsorption/desorption kinetics, cycle life, and reaction thermodynamics of potential material candidates.
  • Chemical hydrogen storage materials research also aims to increase volumetric and gravimetric capacity, improve transient performance, reduce release of volatile impurities, and develop efficient regeneration processes for spent storage material.
  • Sorbent materials research is directed toward increasing effective adsorption temperature through increase of the dihydrogen binding energies and improving volumetric and gravimetric storage capacities through optimizing the material's pore size, increasing pore volume and surface area, and investigating effects of material densification.

Safety, Codes and Standards

As hydrogen and fuel cells begin to play a greater role in meeting the energy needs of our nation and the world, minimizing the safety hazards related to the use of hydrogen as a fuel is essential. The implementation of codes and standards by regulating authorities ensures safe equipment and facility design, construction, and operation for every aspect of the hydrogen delivery infrastructure. Efforts are focused on R&D to:

  • Establish a scientific basis for sound safety practices and for the development and incorporation of requirements that enable the safe deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies
  • Develop and validate test measurement protocols and methods to facilitate qualification and listing of hydrogen and fuel cell systems and components essential for full market deployment
  • Coordinate development and refinement of essential codes and standards and international harmonization of requirements and test procedures
  • Disseminate relevant information in an accurate and timely manner.


The scale-up of production of hydrogen and fuel cell components and systems from the laboratory to the manufacturing plant can have significant challenges. Manufacturing R&D is carried out to:

  • Identify cost drivers of manufacturing processes
  • Modify manufacturing processes to eliminate process steps
  • Reduce labor costs and increase reproducibility by increasing automation
  • Reduce cost by improving manufacturing processes to improve yields and reduce scrap
  • Develop in-line diagnostics for component quality control and validating performance in-line
  • Develop an understanding of the relationship between process parameters and product properties
  • Quantify the effect of defects in materials on performance and durability to understand the accuracy requirements for diagnostics.

Progress is measured in terms of reducing the cost to produce hydrogen and fuel cell systems, increasing manufacturing rates, and growing manufacturing capacity.