The media hype surrounding electric cars has led some commentators to dismiss hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as the forgotten child of green transport, but industry insiders insisted yesterday that UK drivers could yet be filling up with hydrogen at petrol stations across the country within the next five years.
Henri Winand, chief executive of fuel cell manufacturer Intelligent Energy, told BusinessGreen.com that while electric vehicles and biofuels are commonly seen as being at the vanguard of clean transport technology, domestic hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could become commonplace within the decade.
The company has been working on a number of high-profile pilot projects, leading the consortium that produced London's first zero-emissions black cab and launching a hydrogen-powered scooter in conjunction with Suzuki earlier this year. Winand said the results of the pilots had been largely positive, suggesting that the technical viability of fuel cell vehicles is now well established.
Intelligent Energy also supplied the fuel cell system to Boeing for the world's first manned fuel cell aircraft and is exploring wider applications for the technology through a joint venture with Scottish and Southern Energy that is working on fuel-cell powered Combined Heat and Power (CHP) units for commercial and domestic properties.
The company is also extending its international reach after last year raising $30m from investors to support the expansion of its operations beyond the UK and US into India and South East Asia.
However, Winand admitted that, like most innovative new technologies, scaling fuel cells up to a level where they are commercial viable continues to prove challenging.
He accepted support for the sector from government-backed agencies such as the Technology Strategy Board, which funded the taxi project to the tune of £5.5 million has been generous.
But Winand warned that creating a market for fuel cell technology would remain challenging until the necessary supporting infrastructure begins to emerge. He called for more joined-up thinking at company and legislative level, not just to support emerging fuel cell firms, but also to attract those larger energy and fuel companies that could provide distribution networks or refuelling pumps.